Sunday, 17 July 2016

Defending Iraq's Water

Iraqi Academic Association in UK held a two day meeting 2-3 July 2016 in London UK. The subject of the meeting was “Defending Iraq’s Water”

I could not attend the meeting so I sent them the letter hereunder.


I was an adviser to two successive governments in Iraqi Kurdistan (2010-15) during which time I repeatedly raised my concerns over the seriously decreasing water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates. It is well known that Iran dammed or diverted 23 rivers, streams and creeks that entered Iraq along its border from the North to the Shat Al Arab. This had a disastrous effect on all agriculture along the eastern side of Iraq, particularly fruit orchards, not to mention water supplies to villages and towns and the salinity of the Shat Al Arab waters.

I am sorry to say that my words fell on deaf ears and no politician In Baghdad or Erbil raised the issue with Iran, while Iran is happy to sell Iraq the products of Iranian agriculture and thereby have a control over Iraq's food security.

To intensify the growing problem of Iraq's water supplies the Turks are building numerous dams across the Tigris and Euphrates, matters which I have raised on my blog, latest dam they are building is the Ilisu dam across the Tigris which will be equivalent in size to the Rennaissance dam that the Ethiopians are constructing across the Blue Nile river. These dams will both hold back around 8 - 10 billion cubic metres of water and while the Ethiopian dam is some 50 Km from the Sudanese border the Turkish dam is the same distance away from the Iraqi border.

The difference between these two dams is that the Ethiopian enterprise has caused uproar in Egypt and threats to bomb the dam as it will threaten their vital water supply. However there has been no reaction in Iraq other that some petitions from non government organisations in Baghdad which have been ignored. Officially, in Iraq, the responsibility for water, lies with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Following the fall of Saddam the ministerial post was held by Hoshiar Zibari for almost 11 years but I have never met him, even in my capacity of KRG adviser for food security and water, nor have I heard of him talking about water. His successor was Mr Ibrahim Jaffari who, on television, revealed his ignorance on the sources of the waters entering Iraq!

Although I was a KRG adviser I had to privately arrange to take part in meetings, arranged by the Blue Peace organisation, which took place in the House of Lords, London, and at the head offices of the Zamman newspaper in Istanbul. That newspaper has now been closed down by Erdogan. In both meetings I had newspaper cuttings, in Arabic and English, plus photographs showing dried up river beds. I raised the issue, which I think you need to consider in your meeting, that Turkey had offered to sell 1.6 million hectares of agricultural land (equivalent to 6.4 million Donums) in south east Turkey to the Gulf States. This land would be supplied by the waters that Turkey would remove from their dams on the Tigris and Euphrates and thereby depriving Iraq, and Syria to a degree, of the water their agriculture and people depended on. Both these meeting were attended by a large number of Turks, including ex-Ministers and people at director level. All of these people reiterated the slogan that Turkey has used for the last three decades 'Water is a commodity that can be sold.' These are very dangerous words, especially for Iraq but also for all human life, and violate human rights. I produced evidence that Erdogan's Minister of Finance, Mohamed Shamshek, and his Minister of Agriculture, Mehdi Ecare, had been shuttling back and fore between Ankara and the Gulf States to broker a deal. This was reported in the Gulf newspapers and on the internet yet there was no response from Iraq. During the Istanbul meeting the Turkish Director General for Water questioned the validity of my data and suggesting that I was exaggerating the figures. He stated, in front of all those present, that I could not be trusted as the figure of 1.6 million hectares was wrong because Turkey had only been offering 1.2 million hectares to the Gulf States! His statement resulted in laughter from his audience which included editors from the Iraqi newspapers, New Sabah, New Kurdistan, Sabah and Meda and it was reported in Iraq.  

These encounters led to me being excluded from further meetings to avoid embarrassing the Turkish contingent while my full reports to the Prime Minister in Erbil were left to gather dust.

While nothing is done Iraq’s water supplies are drying up and the water table of the land is dropping. The fertile crescent is fast diminishing and the time will come when dry river beds are all that is left of the great rivers of Iraq.

Please keep me informed and I do not mind if my letter was read in your meeting.

Wishing you all the best and a successful meeting.     

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