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Iraq official says Turkey, Iran water policies are ‘killing Iraqi people’

A senior official in Iraq’s environment ministry called on Turkey and Iran to revise their water policies that are “killing” Iraqis. Dependent on water supplies that originate from outside of its borders, Iraq is facing a severe water shortage.

“Ninety percent of our water originates from our neighbors, from Turkish side and Iranian side. And as you know, they have many projects there, especially a new dam, what’s called the [Southeastern Anatolia Project, GAP] project, which includes more than 12 dams. And, you know, these activities will affect the water resources of my country,” Jassim al-Falahi, undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment and Health, told Rudaw’s Bestoon Othman in an interview on Wednesday.

“Whether this is a policy from our neighbors… they should put in their consideration that the drought, it means killing of the Iraqi people,” he said, pointing out that Iraq’s population is increasing at a rate of one million people annually, and this means greater demand on resources.

Baghdad is holding talks with its neighbors Iran and Turkey, as well as Syria. Ankara and Tehran in March said they would cooperate with Iraq on water, despite being accused of hoarding the essential resource.

Tehran is building a network of dams and canals diverting cross-border rivers to its own fields, reservoirs, and lakes, and Ankara has constructed a mega-dam on the Tigris River. While their neighbors are busy enacting decades-long water plans, the governments in Erbil and Baghdad are accused of not addressing the issue with the seriousness that the threat demands. Water levels in Kurdistan Region’s two main dams are very low, farmers have lost crops, and municipalities in Sulaimani have warned there will be shortages in residential areas this summer.

Iraq is one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, partly because of its water insecurity. Last year, Baghdad signed up to the Paris climate accord.

“We need a new mentality to deal with our Iraqi economy. We should not depend on oil production as the main source,” Falahi explained.

His ministry has finished drafting the government’s plan to meet its obligations under the climate agreement, known as National Determined Contributions (NDCs), Falahi told Rudaw English on Thursday. The NDCs will be submitted to the next climate change conference in the United Kingdom in November after they are approved by the Council of Ministers.