Agriculture


Tribal Disputes Flare in over Water Scarcity

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

Tribal disputes flare in southern Iraq over water scarcity

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave instructions on Feb. 11 to stop the encroachment upon water quotas and increase the water share to Al-Mejar district in Maysan province in southern Iraq.

Abadi’s instructions came days after tribal conflicts in Iraq’s southern provinces broke out over agricultural land water quotas, prompting activists in the province to launch a campaign titled Save the Tigris in a bid to end the water crisis. There are already conflicts plaguing those provinces — especially Basra, where water issues between the southern tribes have already escalated into armed conflicts.

Hassanein al-Munshid, a civil activist in a local campaign in Maysan province working to end the water crisis, told Al-Monitor, “Tribal conflicts are intensifying in the province because of the water crisis, which might lead to additional fighting.”

He added, “There is a tribal sheikh in the northern areas of Maysan province controlling the water flow of the Tigris River to irrigate his farms. There are top officials who are aware of his acts of encroachment, but the government cannot do anything about it.”

For security reasons, Munshid did not name the sheikh.

The Iraqi government is doing its best to face the drought that hit the southern provinces due to the lack of water flowing from Turkey, which is the source of the Euphrates River. Most areas of the south and the middle Euphrates depend on the water flowing from the Euphrates.

Majid al-Gharabi, a sheikh in Diwani province, told Al-Monitor, “The reason behind the tribal differences over water is that some clans are diverting the flow of water to prevent it from reaching the farms of other tribes.”

On Jan. 21, Iraqi Minister of Water Resources Hasan al-Janabi wrote on his Facebook page that “Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in front of Abadi that Turkey is committed to postponing the filling of the Ilisu Dam and that the Turkish president is committed [to not harming] Iraq. We definitely have specific demands we seek to achieve peacefully and diplomatically in this regard.”

In an interview published by Foreign Policy Concepts on Jan. 7, the Iraqi minister said the country’s water scarcity is intensified by excessive control measures in the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Of note, 70% of the water that flows into Iraq comes from outside of Iraq’s borders, and this issue — just like any other — affects and is affected by politics, so Turkey’s construction of the Ilisu Dam faced strong Iraqi objections given the risks of drought it entails for Mesopotamia.

In the province of Dhi Qar alone, 20 clan clashes erupted recently due to water scarcity, according to Mayor Hussein Ali Raddad of the Islah district, who also confirmed that the local government in the province failed to reach any solutions regarding the issue.

Ali Raddad told Al-Monitor, “The crisis we are facing now lies in the tribal conflicts that sometimes escalate into violence.”

Iraqi officials say the reason behind the water crisis in the country is that not enough water is flowing into Iraq from Turkey, warning of a looming “disaster” in the coming months.

Meanwhile, a number of citizens blame the Iraqi government for the tribal conflicts erupting in the country, saying the government is incapable of monitoring the distribution of water quotas to farmers. Some tribes are not getting their share of the water while others are getting more than their specified quota, citizens told Radio Nawa.

Water is not sufficiently flowing into farms from the main sources in their provinces, worsening the issues between tribes.

The water crisis may serve as the impetus for new demonstrations in Iraq, specifically in the southern regions where some tribes warned the Iraqi government of a “war” that may erupt in the absence of appropriate measures to resolve the water crisis.

In Maysan province, water shortages are no less serious than those in Dhi Qar, Samawah and Wasit. The capital city of Maysan, Amarah, may suffer a major disaster as a result of drought, as waves of displacement will ensue, the marshes will dry out, the livestock will die and the agriculture industry will be doomed, officials say.

This is not the first time that armed conflicts have erupted between the tribes of southern Iraq over water. Three years ago, the dispute escalated between the tribes of the provinces of Muthanna and Diwaniyah for the same reason.

Parts of southern Iraq are going through a phase no less serious than the situation in the Sunni areas of Anbar, Salahuddin and Ninevah. Water is the dwindling lifeblood that could lead to long-term tribal fighting in those areas.

Despite its attempts, the Iraqi government is seemingly unable to control the tribal differences over water in the areas of southern Iraq, especially considering that there are tribes and families controlling the water flow and preventing it from reaching other farms and areas.

The Iraqi government may have to resort to a military option to end inter-clan disputes over water and force tribes to divide water quotas. Otherwise, some farms will be deprived of their quotas.

Conserving Iran and Iraq’s Wetlands

There’s growing awareness in the Islamic Republic of Iran that wetlands are valuable and sustain livelihoods.

Ramsar, “the gem of northern Iran”, is the town that gives its name to the Ramsar Convention.

The Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It came into force more than 40 years ago.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has 24 sites designated as wetlands of international importance (Ramsar sites) out of 2,290 worldwide. Of Iran’s 24 sites about one third are under pressure or in a critical condition.

Wetlands are vital for biodiversity. Large populations of migratory birds winter there or use them on their way to and from wintering areas in Africa or the Indian sub-continent.

The Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands. It includes all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been struggling to prevent its lakes and wetlands from drying up owing to extensive extraction of water by farmers for irrigation, growing extraction for non-agricultural uses, and climate change.

A telltale signal of vanishing wetlands is the increased frequency  and intensity of dust storms in Iran and across the region. The adverse situation has been compounded by 14 years of drought, according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Sand and dust storms, the advance guard of desertification, have been identified as one of the “emerging issues of environmental concern” in UN Environment’s latest Frontiers Report.

“The anthropogenic causes of sand and dust storms include deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices as well as excessive water extraction and the modification of water bodies for irrigation and other purposes,” says the report.

In the long term, only sustainable land and water management, integrated with measures addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation, can improve the situation.

Iran is trying to deal with the problem. Its National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan, Target 18, states: “By 2030, conservation and wise use of wetlands are strengthened and the situation for at least 50 per cent of degraded wetlands is improved.”

Lake Urmia

Lake Urmia, a Ramsar site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is a vast hypersaline lake with many islands, surrounded by extensive brackish marshes, in northeastern Iran. The lake is fed by rainfall, springs and streams and subject to seasonal variation in level and salinity. The brackish marshes are an important staging area for migratory waterbirds.

Around 6.4 million people and 200 species of birds live in the Urmia basin.

The lake ecosystem supports biodiversity and provides recreation and mental health benefits, as well as water for agriculture and industry. If the lake were to dry up completely, dust storms and disaster could result.

A study between 2002-2011 in the eastern sub-basin of Lake Urmia showed that agricultural activities, the expansion of farmland, and population increases over the last three decades led to the over-exploitation of resources, causing land degradation. The lake has been in decline since 1995. By August 2011, its surface area was only 2,366 km2, according to UN Environment. It further declined to 700km2 in 2013. NASA satellite data indicate that the lake lost about 70 percent of its surface area between 2002 and 2016.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is working with development partners and local communities to improve the situation. Engineering works have helped unblock and un-silt the feeder rivers, and there has been a deliberate release of water from dams in the surrounding hills. In September 2016 the Government of Iran and the Food and Agriculture Organization launched a four-year sustainable management project for the lake.

Recent indications are that the lake is recovering. The lake surface area is now 2,300 km2 (UN Development Programme, 2017). UN Environment’s November 2017 Foresight brief focuses on the extent of this recovery and measures being put in place to ensure this is sustained.

Hawizeh Marsh

In neighbouring Iraq, the Hawizeh Marsh, which extends across the border into Iran where it is known as Haur Al-Azim, was designated as the country’s first Ramsar site in 2007. Around 20-25 per cent of this wetland is in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Part of the Mesopotamian marshland complex fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the whole region is suffering from the construction of upstream water control structures,  increasing water extraction for agriculture as well as reduced rainfall.. As a result, the Hawizeh marsh was placed on Ramsar’s register of threatened wetlands requiring priority attention.

In mid-2017, the Government of Iraq requested the Ramsar Secretariat to organize an advisory mission to the marshes to identify ways for future cooperation between Iraq and Iran as a first step towards the long-term conservation and sustainable development of the marshes, including ways to reduce the incidence of sand and dust storms.

The mission, which took place from 16 to 23 December 2017, involved  officials from  Iraq and Iran participating in workshops and conducting site visits on both sides of the border to better understand the situation. In cooperation with the Ramsar Secretariat, UN Environment is helping support the dialogue process which also includes consultations with local communities and participation of UN agencies.

Areas of agreed future cooperation include carrying out waterbird surveys,   creating a platform for exchanges of technical and scientific information on the ecology of the marshes, and joint celebration events on wetlands and water.

In a quick and positive step forward, a team of Iraqi bird experts joined Iranian surveyors in conducting a midwinter waterfowl count on the Iranian side of the marshes from 23-26 January 2018. Similarly, Iranian experts plan to collaborate in the waterfowl census in Iraq in early February 2018.

“Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future” is the theme for World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2018.

(Source: UN Environment)

Drought Threatens 1m Acres in Kurdistan

By John Lee.

Nearly 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) of land in the Kurdistan Region have reportedly been rendered barren due to drought.

Faruq Ali, Director of Crop Production at the Ministry of Agriculture and Water resources, told Rudaw:

Due to the lack of rainfall during this year’s plantation season, I predict that nearly 60 percent of land has been planted with wheat compared to last year, and nearly 1 million acres of land have been left barren and unplanted.

“… nearly 40 percent of the wheat planted has been lost.

More here from Rudaw.

(Source: Rudaw)

NIC Announces 157 Major Strategic Projects in Iraq

By John Lee.

Iraq’s National Investment Commission (NIC) has just announced the list of major strategic projects to be presented during the Kuwait International Conference for Iraq Reconstruction, to be held in Kuwait from 12th to 14th February.

The 157 large- and medium-sized projects span all sectors of the Iraqi economy, including oil and gas, transport, housing, agriculture and education.

The full 46-page document can be downloaded here.

(Source: NIC)

Basra’s Barrier Against Poisoned Iranian Water Crumbling

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.

A soil barrier built to protect Basra’s farms and oil fields from polluted water flushed out of Iran is leaking. It’s the latest in a long list of water woes between Iran and Iraq.

A soil bund established to prevent the seepage of poisoned water from Iran into Iraq, in the Basra province, is starting to leak. It protects Iraqi land in Basra from a highly saline pool of water that stretches from the Shalamijah border crossing to the Majnoon oil fields.

“The damage that this lake filled with run-off could do is enormous,” says local researcher Kathem al-Ghilani. “That’s because the run off comes from private fish farms and sugar cane farms and the amount of water is huge.”

After looking at satellite imagery, al-Ghilani believes that the Iranian water comes mostly from farming. “When Iran harvests its sugar cane, it empties farms of water and this water contains fungicides and pesticides. It’s highly toxic. There is also waste water from petrochemical plants, oil refineries and Iranian plastic factories,” he explains.

Al-Ghilani says that some of this water has already leaked into Basra, via the waters of the Shatt al-Arab inlet. This is where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet and empty into the sea, but in recent years a reduced flow of water from the rivers has seen the salt water creep inland.

The Karun river, which flows from Iran, is another tributary to the Shatt al-Arab and it also brings polluted water from the neighbouring country. The Iranians have previously denied flushing polluted water into the Karun.

Now the potential collapse of the soil berm is causing even more concern. There are cracks in the 80-kilometre berm and the leaks stretch for 50 kilometres. Farmers have already been forced off their land by increased salinity and pollution to freshwater, and there is fear that more may be pushed out of agriculture. Land used by oil companies is also at risk.

Investment Opportunity: Sugar Production

By John Lee.

The State Company for Food Products, part of the Ministry of Industry and Minerals, has announced an opportunity to invest in sugar production in Missan province.

More details here.

(Source: National Investment Commission)

Dust Storms sweep across Iraq as Govt Solutions Falter

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. 

On Nov. 3, NASA published clear images taken by its satellites of the severe dust storm that hit Iraq recently. The climate changes sweeping Iraq are causing human casualties and economic damages. Hundreds of cases of suffocation were recorded.

The Ministry of Health announced Oct. 30 that there were more than 4,200 cases of suffocation in most governorates, including 528 in Karbala. During the dust storm, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority canceled its flights, and Iranian flights to Baghdad and Najaf airports were also canceled. Ninevah province recorded 1,108 cases of suffocation in the camps for internally displaced persons.

The storms also affected the course of the battles between the Iraqi forces and the Islamic State (IS). On Oct. 31, the Iraqi forces were forced to postpone the campaign aimed to retrieve the city of Qaim, west of Anbar, from IS because of the lack of visibility caused by the dust storms.

While dust storms are occurring in neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and even Iran, “Iraq is one of the most affected countries by the storm, at the level of its environment, individuals’ health and economy,” said Amer Habib of the Technical College Musayyib in Babil province and the director of a project on organic fertilizers in Babil.

“This is due to the fact that Iraq is a barren land where vegetation is scarce. Human activities have swept away orchards and agricultural lands, which also led to the decrease of the rivers’ water levels and the lack of rainfall, which resulted in the drying up of huge areas of agricultural spaces.”

In 2011, the World Meteorological Organization identified dust storms as a natural disaster. Several countries around the world have strengthened their defense strategies against this environmental threat with green belts of trees that are resistant to drought and harsh environments. The stakeholders, especially local governments in Iraq, have been following the same approach for years and have developed projects to help eliminate desertification.

Iraq buys U.S. Wheat

By John Lee.

Iraq has reportedly bought U.S. hard red winter wheat in a direct deal outside the tender process.

Sources told Reuters that the product will be supplied by Cargill (300,000 tonnes) and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) (150,000 tonnes).

Separtely, private exporters reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture export sales of 100,000 metric tons of hard red winter wheat for delivery to Iraq during the 2017/2018 marketing year (The marketing year for wheat began June 1.).

(Sources: Reuters, U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Iranian Official Urges Enhanced Economic Ties with Iraq

Chairman of Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce Yahya Ale-Ishaq has hailed the political ties between Tehran and Baghdad, saying the two sides’ economic ties should also be strengthened.

Speaking in a forum of Iranian and Iraqi traders, Al-e Eshaq said the economic relations between Tehran and Baghdad have not developed on par with the political and security ties.

The official called for removal of obstacles in the way of the two countries’ economic cooperation, especially in the fields of banking, transportation, and customs affairs.

He further noted that that Tehran and Baghdad eye boosting their annual trade exchange to $20 billion.

Iran and Iraq enjoy cordial political, security and cultural ties but due to some internal and regional problems including Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL) terrorism in Iraq, they have not been able to increase their trade volume.

Iran’s main exports to the neighboring country include agro products, foodstuff and fruits such as watermelon, tomato and cucumber, which account for 37% of the total exports.

Other Iranian exports to Iraq include canned food, tomato paste, chicken, egg, meat, construction materials (mainly rebar, tiles and ceramics), steel and evaporative cooler.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

Video: Iran “Reduces Water Supply” over Iraqi Kurd Vote

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

While Iraq has taken measures against its semi-autonomous Kurdish region for last month’s secession vote, Kurdish farmers say they’re also being punished by neighbouring Iran.

They say Tehran has stemmed the flow of water to border towns.

Al Jazeera‘s Hoda Abdel-Hamid reports from Qaladze, near the Iraq-Iran border: