As it attempts to recover from its state of political degradation, Iraq is about to face a water crisis, which may threaten national security and agriculture in the first agricultural nation in history. On their quest to achieve development, Iraq’s neighbours, Turkey and Iran, have restricted high levels of water flows to the Tigris River.
During the past two days, Turkey started filling the reservoir of Ilısu Dam, causing a sudden decrease in the water level in Mosul, Salahudin, and the Iraqi capital Baghdad. A video circulated on social media showing people walking across the Tigris River in Baghdad for the first time.
The decrease of water in the Tigris River raised fears among many Iraqis that drought could affect their farms and agriculture. Meanwhile, Iran restricted the flow of the cross-border Little Zab river, as it constructed a dam on it in Sardasht.
The Tigris River is the second largest river in Western Asia. Its basin is shared by four countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The river receives its water from tributaries that rise in the Zagros Mountains in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, in addition to contributions from precipitation that originates in the Armenian Highlands.
On Saturday, Iraqi Minister of Water Resources Hassan Al-Janabi said there are no fears of lower level of water flow in the Tigris River. He added in a press conference that the level of water in most areas of Iraq decreased because of “natural scarcity of water” due to insufficient snow cover and rain.
According to Al-Janabi, communication channels are being opened between Iran and its neighbouring countries and the decrease of water would not affect those relations. He also stressed that further discussions are needed with neighbouring countries. Trying to relieve the people, the minister said that Iraq has enough drinking water and enough water for irrigation for hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of land.
The Ilısu Dam was built in 2006 on the Tigris River near the village of Ilisu as part of the South-eastern Anatolian Project (GAP) and is currently the largest hydropower project in Turkey. It is located on the Tigris River. According to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the dam will create a reservoir with a maximum volume of 10.4bn cubic metres and a surface area of 313 sqkm. The Ilısu power station will have a capacity of 1,200 MW and is expected to produce 3,800 GWh of power per year.
Despite fears over water scarcity in Iraq because of the dam, Turkey says that the river water flowing into Iraq and Syria will not be polluted because the use of water for hydropower is non-polluting, and the Ilısu Dam is not for irrigation, and as a result of Ilısu, new sewage treatment facilities will be built in the towns upstream, thus improving water quality.
Al-Janabi further said that his country has an agreement with Turkey regarding the amount of water for the dam’s reservoir and the quantity to be launched, adding that an Iraqi delegation would visit Turkey soon to discuss the matter with Turkish officials.
Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Yildiz, said that his country started filling the reservoir after consultations with the Iraqi side, and hosted an Iraqi technical delegation to check the dam. He stressed that his country would not take any step without consulting Iraq, as Turkey believes that Tigris–Euphrates waters are mutual waters.