Agriculture


Lake Milh dries up in sign of Worse to come

By Wassim Bassem for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

Iraq’s favorite lake dries up in sign of worse to come

Karbala’s Lake Milh hasn’t seen a lot of visitors in the last few years. Once a popular picnic destination for Karbala residents, the lake’s water has dwindled, leaving most of it a desert with nothing but derelict fishing boats and dead animals.

The second-largest lake in Iraq, Lake Milh is also known as Lake Razzaza; it lies west of Karbala and southwest of Baghdad. It is fed by the Euphrates River as well as rainfall and groundwater sources. Over the last decade, however, it has been drying up.

Saeed Ali, a fish vendor who lives near the lake, told Al-Monitor, “The lake was an important source of fish in the ’80s and ’90s. But with time, it has become a mere pond that will one day dry out completely if the issue is not addressed.”

Furat al-Tamimi, head of the parliament’s Committee for Agriculture, Water and Marshlands, said the situation requires immediate attention. He told Al-Monitor, “The Ministry of Water Resources and the committee are informed of the situation at Lake Milh. We are tracking the declining water levels at the lake with great concern. This is also happening in many other lakes and rivers.”

Tamimi said the lake’s falling levels are related to the drought that has plagued Iraq since 2017; some estimate the drought will continue until 2026. But there are no plans to restore the lake, said Tamimi, a deputy from Ammar Hakim’s Hikmat movement. He said a number of civil society activists and specialists on natural resources in Karbala province have criticized the “government’s idleness over the water crisis in Lake Milh,” with some activists working together on a media campaign to draw the world’s attention to the lake.

Engineer Aoun Thyab, the most senior member of the advisory board of the Ministry of Water Resources, said the problem is much more complicated. “Addressing this problem is not so simple,” Thyab told Al-Monitor. “Protests and calls on environmental groups won’t solve it because the problem is related to internal and regional policies involving the water sector, as well as the rain and streams that flow from the desert.”

Thyab said the Ministry of Water Resources dropped Lake Milh entirely from its water supply calculations in a 2015 strategic study. “As such, Lake Milh is no longer seen as useful for irrigation, water storage or fish farming.”

He said Lake Milh’s levels decreased from 34 meters (112 feet) above sea level to 20 meters (66 feet) with the drought. “This was due to a number of overwhelming factors, especially the decrease in the Euphrates River, which is the lake’s inflow, because of the Turkish dams that reduced Iraq’s water share. Add to this the scarcer rainfall in recent years and the depletion of streams that flow from the desert around the lake.”

He said, “Lake Milh has also seen higher evaporation levels, which increased salinity, making it effectively impossible for fish to inhabit the lake.” Thyab said that in the 1990s the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture experimented with a project to farm sea fish but that project proved to be a failure. “It is safe to say that the lake is dead.”

Thyab’s remarks indicate that it would be next to impossible to restore Lake Milh as a tourist attraction whose beautiful flora and fauna once brought foreign and Iraqi tourists from every province.

Karbala has also suffered greatly from the armed conflicts in the last decade, most recently when armed groups who fought against the Iraqi state used it as a base. The city of Karbala’s practice of draining polluted water into the lake has also contributed to the problem.

But there is hope for the lake yet. In January, the Iraqi National Investment Commission (NIC) unveiled a $25 million investment project to rehabilitate and develop both Lake Milh and al-Habbaniya, a lake linked to Milh by the narrow Sin-Al-Thibban Canal.

The project includes building a tourist attraction over approximately 4,000 acres and overhauling the existing hotels and 200 apartments to modern standards, as well as a full amusement park, a marina, world-class restaurants and a media center.

The locals worry that the efforts come too late to save the lake. Local engineer Fayez Eisa, who oversees the area’s anti-desertification project, told Al-Monitor, “Tired of dealing with the bureaucratic red tape on contracts and permits, the Karbala Holy Shrine administration has established a green belt around 2000 dunams (494 acres) of desert land, where they dug dozens of wells to provide water to the farming areas around Lake Milh.”

Lakes such as Milh represent essential natural reservoirs in efforts to fight the drought that haunts Iraq’s agriculture sector. Cooperation with neighboring countries to restore and protect them will be crucial to the region’s survival.

(Picture credit: عمر سيروان)

Multi-Billion Dollars Needed to Keep Water Flowing

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Ibrahim Saleh.

Multi-Billion Dollar Budget Needed To Keep Iraq’s Water Flowing

In Baghdad, locals have been fretting about dramatic falls in the level of the Tigris river. The government has a plan. Only problem is, that plan requires billions in funding that Iraq does not have.

The passengers in the small bus all peer out anxiously as the vehicle crosses the Sanak bridge – the name used by locals for the Rashid bridge which spans the Tigris river in the middle of Baghdad. They’re not worried about the bridge though, they’re worried about the water levels.

“It’s actually very low,” one passenger says to another.

“We should expect that,” his travelling companion replies, “they are trying to drain the water – and the life – out of Iraq.”

Salah al-Jibouri is the 47-year old driver of the minibus. The passengers call him Uncle Salah. And he’s been driving this route for years. At the beginning of every Iraqi summer, he always hears these same conversations about the amount of water in the Tigris river. But this time, he says resignedly, it’s more serious and people are really worried.

Possibly with good reason. At the time the bus is crossing the bridge, it had only been 24 hours since the Turkish government announced that they had started filling their huge Ilisu Dam to the north. Critics have been talking about the damage that stopping the flow of water in Turkey will do to Iraq for years – but now the problem is clear for all to see, as the Tigris river levels have fallen away dramatically.

Locals could talk about little else. Some Iraqis posted pictures of residents who had been able to walk across the river, which usually requires a boat or a bridge to get over. They were also upset with their own government, which seemed to be confused as to what exactly was going on.

Turkish authorities quickly moved to calm the situation with the Turkish ambassador to Iraq saying that it would take nearly a  year to fill the Ilisu dam’s reservoir and the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan announcing that the filling of the dam had been postponed.

The Iraqi minister for water resources, Hassan al-Janabi, said that the two countries had agreed upon a way for Turkey to fill the dam more slowly, and without stopping as much water flowing into Iraq.

But the problem is far from resolved. Baghdad locals used to worry about flooding in the city during the wetter months. But now, floods are the last thing they need fear. Instead it is the dams being built by neighbouring countries – including Turkey, Iran and Syria – as well as climate change, that are reducing the water flow into their city.

Over two-thirds of Iraq’s water comes from tributaries it shares with neighbouring countries.

“After these dams were built, Iraq’s share of water decreased by more than 45 percent,” says Zafer Abdullah, a consultant for Iraq’s ministry of water resources.

Iraq has agreements with its neighbours about water flow and how much water the different nations need to share. But some of the treaties are not being adhered to, with, for example, the Iranian government reporting that it cannot stick to a previous deal because climate change has decreased the amount of water to be shared.

The solution would not be to build more dams, the Iraqi ministry of water resources, has stated. Iraq’s own dams are underutilized and would store billions more cubic litres, if they could.

The Iraqi authorities say they have a strategy to see them through until 2035, that would provide water for things like drinking and agriculture. It takes into account the decreased amount of water due to climate change as well as the potential for neighbouring countries to keep blocking or diverting rivers.

However, as al-Janabi says, for the plan to work, it requires 24 “urgent and essential” points to be resolved, at the cost of up to US$3 billion. And that is extra funding the Iraqi national budget cannot afford right now.

(Picture credit: Mohammad Huzam)

Water Shortages: Iraq Bans planting of Rice, Corn

By John Lee.

Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources has reportedly banned farmers from planting rice and corn, due to increasing shortages in the country.

According to Reuters, Minister Hassan al-Janabi (pictured) has decided to prioritise drinking water, industry and the growing of vegetables.

The Agriculture Ministry is said to be embarrassed about the decision, especially as rice and corn are considered strategic and farmers had already prepared to plant them.

(Source: Reuters)

Turkey “Postpones” filling of Ilisu Dam

By John Lee.

Turkey has reportedly postponed the filling of the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris river until July, as fears of major water shortages in Iraq increase.

According to a report from The National, water levels of the Tigris have reduced significantly since last week, sparking renewed panic among Iraqis.

The Turkish Ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Yildiz, told reporters that an agreement was signed last month between the two countries to regulate the flow of water.

He added that dams built in neighbouring Iran on its tributaries of the Tigris have contributed to low water levels.

More here.

(Source: The National)

Turkish Dam causes Water Shortage in Iraq

By John Lee.

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi chaired a meeting of the Ministerial Council for National Security (pictured) on Sunday, focusing on the water shortage in Iraq.

The Council viewed a presentation by the Minister of Water Resources, Hassan Al Janabi, which included a plan to address the expected water scarcity for the current summer.

The problem has been exacerbated by the filling of the Ilısu Dam in Turkey, and the recent irregular rainfall.

According to a report from The National, water levels in Iraq’s main rivers have fallen by at least 40 percent in recent decades.

(Sources: Media Office of the Prime Minister, The National)

Iraq needs to Import 2m Tonnes of Wheat

By John Lee.

Despite this year’s drought, Iraq has reportedly bought more than 300,000 tonnes of domestic wheat this season, and maintained its estimate of 2.5 million tonnes of local purchases for the 2018 season.

According to Reuters, this implies an import gap of 2 million tonnes, as the country uses between 4.5 million and 5 million tonnes of wheat annually.

Iraq typically buys wheat of US, Canadian and Australian origin.

(Source: Reuters)

Video: Baghdad hosts 10th Int’l Flower Festival

From PressTV. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

A week-long Flower Festival is being held in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Foreign participants say they are speechless with the sight of Baghdad shining in full bloom.

Press TV‘s correspondent, Altaf Ahmad, reports from the Iraqi capital:

Iraq’s Mosul Dam Lake Shrinking

The reservoir impounded by Iraq’s Mosul Dam has shrunk 60 percent in surface area from the late 1990s to present day, according to a report from the World Resources Institute (WRI):

There are several factors behind this trend, including poor water resource management by the Iraqi government and intense regional droughts. But it’s Turkey’s Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) and its 22 dams and 19 hydropower plants across the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that many sources cite as a key driver behind the reduced river flow into Iraq. The non-profit EPIC says that “according to Iraqi government projections, the GAP has reduced river flow into Iraq by 80 percent to date.”

Millions of Iraqis rely on the Tigris and Euphrates for drinking water, irrigation, power and transportation. Furthermore, water shortages are thought to be behind large increases in desertification in parts of south and central Iraq. And Iraq’s water stress, an indicator of competition for water among users, is set to increase due to growing populations and climate change. It’s likely that struggles surrounding water shortages will continue in this arid nation.

More from WRI here.

(Source: WRI)

Video: Faw Peninsula faces Environmental Catastrophe

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Environmentalists say Iraq’s once fertile Faw Peninsula is facing catastrophe.

The region has seen a major collapse in its fishing and farming industries due to drought and decades of wars.

Al Jazeera‘s Imran Khan reports from Baghdad: