Agriculture


Iraq to Increase Wheat Imports

By John Lee.

Iraq is expected to significantly increase its imports of wheat, as it reportedly cuts the irrigated area it plants with wheat by half in the 2018-2019 growing season due to the continuing water shortages.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Mahdi al-Qaisi told Reuters:

“The shortage of water resources, climate change and drought are the main reasons behind this decision, our expectation is the area will shrink to half.”

The country already imports more than one million tonnes of wheat per year, with annual demand of around 4.5 to 5.0 million tonnes.

Full report here.

(Source: Reuters)

KRG PM receives new Consul General of the Netherlands

The Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, received the Netherlands new Consul General to the Kurdistan Region, Mr. Willem Consijn and his accompanying delegation.

Consul General Consijn stressed his country’s willingness to strengthen the relations with the Kurdistan Region.

Prime Minister Barzani congratulated Consul General Consijn on his new position and wished him success in his duties, assuring him of his government’s support during his mission.

He stressed Kurdistan Regional Government’s desire to strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation, especially in the agriculture sector.

He also thanked the Dutch government for its humanitarian and military assistance to the Kurdistan Region, particularly in the field of the reform of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs.

Prime Minister Barzani’s recent visit to the Netherlands and his meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte was also discussed.

(Source: KRG)

Cabinet Approves Funding for Infrastructure Projects

The Cabinet held its weekly regular meeting in Baghdad on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, and discussed progress in the implementation of measures to improve the delivery of essential services across Iraq.

It approved an allocation of 4 billion Iraqi dinars for the comprehensive and immediate maintenance of the soil barrier with Iran to protect Basra’s farms and oil fields from polluted water from the Iranian side.

It also voted to fund several key projects in Basra, Dhi Qar, Al-Muthana and Najaf provinces, and received a briefing on the Nebras petrochemical complex in Basra which will provide thousands of jobs and boost the local economy.

The Cabinet also discussed current and future plans to support the agricultural sector across Iraq.

The Cabinet approved the establishment of a consulate for the Republic of Lebanon in the city of Najaf.

(Source: Iraqi Govt)

Video: Amber Rice Crop Devastated by Drought

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

In southern Iraq, fields where rice has been sown for centuries now lie bare for lack of water…. This season many farmers have not planted the treasured amber rice local to Diwaniyah province because of an unusually harsh drought.

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The Secret History behind Iraq’s Stalled Water Project

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 Histyar Qader and Awara Hamid.

The Secret History Behind The Stalled Project To Solve Iraq’s Water Problems

Despite ever-increasing water supply problems, the construction of one of the biggest dams in Iraq remains on hold. One of the main reasons for the delay seems to be political paranoia.

It would have been the largest dam in Iraq when the project was first proposed. But over 60 years have passed since the Bekhme dam was planned and in that time, the project has seen various political regimes come and go as well as war and peace.

It would have been a major undertaking, with a final height of around 230 meters, and offered extra water supplies to the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. Recent events, where Turkey cut off the flow of the Euphrates river and levels dropped noticeably, and Iran cut off water from the Little Zab, mean that a dam like this one is more necessary than ever. But, after all this time, will it ever happen?

The Bekhme dam was first on the Iraqi government’s agenda in 1937 and a US company developed a design for the dam in 1953; that is, during Iraq’s monarchy. In 1979, a Japanese firm adapted the original designs and in 1986, two more companies, one from Turkey and the other from the former Yugoslavia, began work on that plan.

Work continued until 1991, and around a third of the required work had been done, when the whole thing came to a grinding halt, due to the second Gulf war. This is when the Iraqi government headed by Saddam Hussein withdrew from the northern area, leaving the Kurds to govern themselves.

Should the giant dam have been completed, the authorities in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan say that it would have held between 14 and 17 billion cubic meters of water, at a  depth of 179 meters. It would have helped irrigate more than 560 hectares of agricultural land and produced electricity too.

“The three dams – Dokan, Darbandikhan and Dohuk – collect seven to eight billion cubic meters of water but the whole region needs 10 billion,” explains Akram Mohammed, the head of the regional department for dams in Iraqi Kurdistan. “There is a plan to build 250 more small and medium-sized dams but only 14 have been completed so far. If we continue at this pace, we are going to face serious water shortages soon.”

The Bekhme dam project was suspended in 1991. But it was not just  a  political problem, due to the Iraqi government pulling out of Kurdish areas.  Over time, the machinery and materials used for the dam-building “disappeared”. Locals say the goods were smuggled across the border into Iran and never returned.

After Iraqi Kurdistan’s second-ever parliament was formed, and governed between 2005 and 2009, local politicians did try to revive the project. They were unsuccessful but up until today, the MPs involved can’t explain exactly why.

Jamil Mohammed was a member of the committee that debated the subject at the time but he told NIQASH that “we did not come to any conclusions”. He couldn’t give any further information, he said.

Several problems with the Bekhme dam project have been flagged, including geographical ones, downstream issues and the destruction of Iraqi heritage, once the area has been flooded.

“The Bekhme dam issue was only discussed once during that administration,” says Abdulrahman Ali, who is on the agriculture and irrigation committee in the Kurdish parliament and a senior member of the opposition Change movement. “I followed up on this issue personally but the response was that this was a political issue. That’s why it remains unresolved up until now.”

The nature of those problems is a little more difficult to trace back. Money was not the issue apparently. In 2005, as the Iraqi Kurdish authorities resumed contact with the Iraqi government, Baghdad promised to put US$5 billion into the dam’s completion.

“During the al-Maliki government, we followed up on the amount of money for the project and we note that the Iraqi ministry of water resources did discuss the issue with authorities from the Kurdish region,” says Mahmoud Raza, an MP in Baghdad. “The plan for the dam changed several times. But the Kurdish authorities wouldn’t agree to it being built.”

Apparently the problem was the level of water in the dam and its size. There was concern about how much water the dam would collect and whether this would block the flow of water into the rest of Iraq.

Alternative plans were suggested by the Kurdish authorities but these were not viable, Zafer Abdullah, an adviser to Iraq’s ministry of water resources, told NIQASH. “Other plans involved reducing the water level in the dam and the size of the reservoir,” he said. “At that time, the Kurdish presidency was against the dam being constructed and some said there were political reasons behind this.”

At the start nobody had any problem with the dam being built. But later on the issue was politicized – when it was suggested that the Barzan area be submerged.

“It was the Kurdish leadership who would not accept the construction of the dam, despite the fact that the Iraqi government gave them three alternative designs for the project,” Mohammed, head of the regional department for dams in Iraqi Kurdistan, confirms.

Over the course of two weeks researching this story, NIQASH tried to contact the Kurdish government’s spokesperson, Safeen Dizayee, several times to ask why but had no response.

A large part of the “political” reason behind the lack of progress on the Bekhme dam also has to do with the fact that around 54 villages in the area would be submerged, says Karwan Karim Khan, mayor of Khalifan, where the Bekhme dam would be located.

Some of these villages are located in the Barzan area, the historic home to the Barzani tribe, from which one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling families originates. The Barzanis head one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s most popular political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and until he stepped down recently, Massoud Barzani was president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

At one stage a petition was launched, collecting signatures of those opposed to the destruction of these villages due to the dam, and Kurdish authorities used this to justify the ongoing suspension of the project.

“We signed the petition because the Bekhme dam could cause many problems – one of which is that we would be forced to leave our homes,” says Hasso Mohammed Amin, a 52-year-old resident of one of the villages that could end up submerged, Dola Teshwu. “ We wanted the project suspended or its size reduced,” he notes.

The nature of those problems is a little more difficult to trace back. Money was not the issue apparently. In 2005, as the Iraqi Kurdish authorities resumed contact with the Iraqi government, Baghdad promised to put US$5 billion into the dam’s completion.

“During the al-Maliki government, we followed up on the amount of money for the project and we note that the Iraqi ministry of water resources did discuss the issue with authorities from the Kurdish region,” says Mahmoud Raza, an MP in Baghdad. “The plan for the dam changed several times. But the Kurdish authorities wouldn’t agree to it being built.”

Apparently the problem was the level of water in the dam and its size. There was concern about how much water the dam would collect and whether this would block the flow of water into the rest of Iraq.

Alternative plans were suggested by the Kurdish authorities but these were not viable, Zafer Abdullah, an adviser to Iraq’s ministry of water resources, told NIQASH. “Other plans involved reducing the water level in the dam and the size of the reservoir,” he said. “At that time, the Kurdish presidency was against the dam being constructed and some said there were political reasons behind this.”

“It was the Kurdish leadership who would not accept the construction of the dam, despite the fact that the Iraqi government gave them three alternative designs for the project,” Mohammed, head of the regional department for dams in Iraqi Kurdistan, confirms.

Over the course of two weeks researching this story, NIQASH tried to contact the Kurdish government’s spokesperson, Safeen Dizayee, several times to ask why but had no response.

A large part of the “political” reason behind the lack of progress on the Bekhme dam also has to do with the fact that around 54 villages in the area would be submerged, says Karwan Karim Khan, mayor of Khalifan, where the Bekhme dam would be located.

Some of these villages are located in the Barzan area, the historic home to the Barzani tribe, from which one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling families originates. The Barzanis head one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s most popular political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and until he stepped down recently, Massoud Barzani was president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

At one stage a petition was launched, collecting signatures of those opposed to the destruction of these villages due to the dam, and Kurdish authorities used this to justify the ongoing suspension of the project.

“We signed the petition because the Bekhme dam could cause many problems – one of which is that we would be forced to leave our homes,” says Hasso Mohammed Amin, a 52-year-old resident of one of the villages that could end up submerged, Dola Teshwu. “ We wanted the project suspended or its size reduced,” he notes.

“At the start nobody had any problem with the dam being built,” Abbas Ghazali Mirkhan, an MP with the KDP and also a resident from the area where the dam is meant to be being built, told NIQASH. “But later on the issue was politicized – when it was suggested that the Barzan area be submerged and the Barzan villagers be displaced.”

“When the budget was first allocated for the dam project in 2005 and the plan designed by foreign advisers, Massoud Barzani had no problem with it,” Mirkhan continued. “But when it turned out there were political motivations behind the project, Barzani and the local population collected signatures for a petition against it and the project was suspended.”

And by this, he means that the Barzanis clearly felt that the dam was a personal attack on their heritage, possibly a politically motivated one by Baghdad.

Whatever the reason back then, work on the Bekhme dam seems unlikely to resume any time soon, no matter how much its needed. The Iraqi government has basically given up on it now, insiders say.

“There’s no hope in reviving those talks with the Kurdish authorities about the Bekhme dam,” Abdullah, the ministry of water resources adviser, concludes. “We are now relying on the Tharthar dam [further south] to secure our water supply.”

Iraq Sets up National Authority to Manage Environment

Iraq Sets up National Authority to Mobilize Global Climate Finance, Manage Environment and Climate Change Challenges

On June 2018, Iraq has established a high-powered National Designated Authority to help mobilize global climate funding in support of dealing with pressures imposed by a range of environmental and climate change-related issues.

This was announced by the Iraqi Deputy Minister for Health and Environment, Dr. Jassim Abdul Aziz, at a high-level workshop on Iraq’s Green Climate Fund Readiness held in Amman this month.

With grant assistance from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Government of Iraq has embarked on a national readiness programme for a period of two years during 2018-2019.

UNDP Iraq will serve as a delivery partner for this grant assistance that aims to support the Government of Iraq in strengthening the national capacities to effectively access and efficiently manage, track and guide climate financing with particular attention to the requirement of Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Water insecurity, land degradation, desertification, loss of vegetation and biodiversity and salinity form part of the complex challenges that Iraq faces, posing significant obstacles for the country to mount a resilient recovery following decades of conflict.

The Government of Iraq has formulated an economy-wide plan to cut GHG emission by around 14% between 2020 until 2035. However, Iraq is also facing a huge economic challenge as a result of the collapse in the international oil market in 2015 and its very significant impact on the national economy.

Guided by Iraq’s national development plan, policies and priorities, the readiness programme will include the preparatory activities that include establishing a National Designated Authority (NDA) in Iraq under the leadership by the GCF Focal Point.

Strengthening stakeholders’ engagement and effective participation, and assisting Iraq in developing a gender- responsive country programme including climate change adaptation and mitigation priorities are some of the core objectives of the readiness programme.

The accomplishment of readiness activities will lay the foundation for Iraq to kick-start concrete steps towards meeting the need for climate financing in an effective and coordinated way.

The three-day workshop, attended by the Iraqi Ambassador in Jordan (Safia Al Sauhail), the Iraqi deputy minister of Health and Environment Dr. Jassim Al Falahy, and by an inter-ministerial group comprising several heads of Iraqi government institutions, took stock of Iraq’s readiness for GCF and the roles and responsibilities of the associated the National Designated Authority.

Participants at the workshop agreed on the steps to be taken for the implementation of a roadmap for Nationally Determined Contributions consistent with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) guidelines.

(Source: UNDP)

Video: Farmers Furious at Suspension of Farming Rice, Corn

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

Farmers in Iraq’s southern agricultural province of Diwaniyah were left fuming this week after the country’s agriculture ministry announced it would suspend the cultivation of rice, corn and other cereals that demand large amounts of water because of an unusually bad drought.

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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)