In Rudaw 

Turkey, Iran say will cooperate with Iraq on water issues

Turkey and Iran on Saturday said they would cooperate with Iraq on water availability issues, despite being widely accused of hoarding the essential resource.

Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources held its first international water conference on Saturday, featuring discussions with neighboring countries on how to share interconnected water resources.

Officials have warned that dams built by Turkey and Iran have contributed to a growing water crisis in southern and central provinces of Iraq, as well as the Kurdistan Region.

“We, as Turkey, have never used the issue of water as a bargaining chip, or we have never considered cutting it. Turkey has done everything in its power to bring water to Iraq, even during the most difficult times, even during the drought,” claimed Turkey’s Ambassador to Iraq Fatih Yildiz to Rudaw’s Halkawt Aziz at the two-day conference.

“The Turkish parliament has also voted on agreements with Iraq, and we continue to work on these two issues,” added the diplomat, stressing the importance of the conference to resolve water issues between the countries. “We have an action plan and we have identified many areas of cooperation with Iraq.”

Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi also told Aziz that Iran will cooperate with Iraq to share water between the countries.

“Water has a huge importance for Iran, Iraq and neighboring countries. The Islamic Republic is working with Iraq to use and benefit from water. We hope we can benefit from this water in a better way, in light of the recent years that water and rain decreased,” said Masjedi.

Iraq is the world’s fifth most vulnerable nation to the effects of climate change, including water and food insecurity, according to the United Nations. After years of conflict and mired in political and economic crises, it is also one of the least prepared to deal with the emergency.

“This international conference is important for Iraq and the region. Water must be shared at all levels: globally; regionally; between countries; and between men and women at the community level. It must be a source of cooperation rather than conflict,” said Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq Irena Vojackova-Sollorano in a statement.

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Director of Dams Akram Rasul said the Region is “cooperating well with Iraq’s water ministry and resources” and that the Region has plans to build strategic reservoirs for agricultural irrigation, electricity, tourism, and more.

“After the [1991] uprising, we built small and medium reservoirs. Now 17 are works in progress, but have unfortunately stopped because we are waiting for a budget,” said Rasul, adding that four of them are dams.

Rasul noted that Turkey has expressed readiness to help the Kurdistan Region, adding that they hope Iran will also get on board to send enough water to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

“We are not building huge dams […] we are building medium to small dams to protect our water,” Karim Sleman, a deputy in the KRG’s Ministry of Agriculture, told Rudaw on Saturday.

As Tehran is building a network of dams and canals, Iraq will feel the effect of water shortages caused by Iran’s dams. In the south of Iraq, water shortages and poor water quality are already creating climate refugees. Rural families are relocating to urban centres as their fields dry out or salt over, found a February 2020 report by three organizations: the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Social Inquiry, and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).