Water shortage threatens 2 million Iraqis

The American military withdrawal from Iraq has led to an uptick in violence, and now life is getting even more difficult for many Iraqis. More than 2 million in the south are expected to be victims of a severe water shortage, “described as the most critical since the earliest days of Iraq’s civilisation.” Iraq has ...

581657_090828_drought2.jpg
581657_090828_drought2.jpg
An Iraqi inspects the falling level of water of the Tigris River crossing in central Baghdad, 07 January 2008. Parts of Iraq are in the grip of a drought, adding to woes of farmers already battling security problems, poor power supplies, saline soils and lack of machinery, Agriculture Minister Ali al-Bahadili said. The winter rains, which usually begin drenching the country from October, have yet to arrive and seeds which were planted in the autumn have started rotting or have been eaten by birds, Bahadili said. AFP PHOTO/ALI AL-SAADI (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)

The American military withdrawal from Iraq has led to an uptick in violence, and now life is getting even more difficult for many Iraqis. More than 2 million in the south are expected to be victims of a severe water shortage, "described as the most critical since the earliest days of Iraq's civilisation."

Iraq has experienced droughts before, including severe ones 10 years ago and just last year. But the damage of below-average rainfall for two winters in a row has been exacerbated by a number of new dams built in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, sucking dry the once-mighty Euphrates River that has provided the region with water for centuries. Iraq's huge marshes are in even more danger of drying up than they were under Saddam Hussein, who purposefully drained many of the marshes as a punishment to the residents.

The American military withdrawal from Iraq has led to an uptick in violence, and now life is getting even more difficult for many Iraqis. More than 2 million in the south are expected to be victims of a severe water shortage, “described as the most critical since the earliest days of Iraq’s civilisation.”

Iraq has experienced droughts before, including severe ones 10 years ago and just last year. But the damage of below-average rainfall for two winters in a row has been exacerbated by a number of new dams built in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, sucking dry the once-mighty Euphrates River that has provided the region with water for centuries. Iraq’s huge marshes are in even more danger of drying up than they were under Saddam Hussein, who purposefully drained many of the marshes as a punishment to the residents.

The loss of water will not just hurt farmers, either. The city of Nasiriyah has lost two of its four power generators because of falling river levels, and may have to shut down the other two if the river continues to fall. While a wetter winter may help in the future, only a water policy reversal by Iraq’s neighbors can stop future droughts.

ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images

James Downie is an editorial researcher at FP.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.