From the beginning of last summer until the end of October, more than 2,000 families were forced to leave their homes due to the retreat of the swamps, according to El-Hajj Hassan, from FAO. Some of the displaced have moved to swampy areas that still have water, while others have abandoned their traditional way of life and moved to cities like Basra or Baghdad.
Tensions among those remaining in the swamps are rising, and security consultants believe that water shortages, and specifically the disappearance of swamps, could affect national security. According to Eimear Hennessy, former risk analyst at G4S Consulting, “the thousands of people who have been uprooted and impoverished by the ongoing crisis in the Mesopotamian swamps are likely to be more susceptible to recruitment by non-state actors” – militias and terrorist groups – “that make promises of an attractive future”.
According to Nature Iraq, the recent drying up of the marshes has caused a collapse in wildlife diversity, with populations of Binni, a golden brown fish highly prized by marsh Arabs, plummeting. “Two thousand officially registered fishermen have lost their source of income and are now unemployed,” Saleh Hadi, director of agriculture for Dhi Qar, said in October.
Before the drought, the marbled duck, listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, appeared to be thriving in the swamps, as did the endangered Basra reed warbler and the Iraqi native babbler. But with falling water levels, Nature Iraq said, these birds are seen much less often.
Cattle are also suffering. Water buffaloes, which graze in rivers, now have difficulty finding clean water and enough food; thousands died from disease and malnutrition. “Lower water levels are having a devastating impact on buffalo herders,” said Samah Hadid, a spokesperson for the NRC. “The buffalo herders we are talking to are getting more and more desperate.”
as the perspective worsens for communities in Iraq’s wetlands, NGOs are promoting actions that can reduce the impact of drought, including investments in water filtration and treatment systems for areas with high levels of salinization. They are pressing Iraqi authorities, at national and regional levels, to collect more data on water flows and scarcity impacts, and to improve regulation of aquifers to prevent overpumping, which decreases quantity and quality. of groundwater.
The Iraqi government is supplying some grain producers with salt-tolerant wheat; breeders are working on drought-tolerant beets; and academics advocate for programs that provide conflict management training for communities struggling to share water resources equitably.
For years, Iraq has been negotiating with its upriver neighbors to allow more water to flow across its border, but the situation has not improved. In January 2022, Iraq announced that it would sue Iran at the International Court of Justice for cutting off its access to water, but the case has not moved forward. Last July, Iraq asked Turkey to increase the amount of water flowing south into Iraq. Both sides agreed that an Iraqi “technical delegation” would visit Turkey to assess water levels behind Turkish dams, but Turkey has not accepted responsibility for Iraq’s water shortages. Instead, Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Ali Riza Güney, accused Iraqis of “wasting” their water resources and urged the nation to reduce water waste and modernize its irrigation systems.
The new year is expected to bring below-average rainfall for the region, according to the UN World Food Program and FAO. With the impacts of climate change worsening and no foreseeable improvement in water management, the outlook for Iraq’s Mesopotamian wetlands and the communities that depend on them looks bleak.