dimanche 7 avril 2013

The Water Issue in Iraq and Attempts to Solve It

The Water Issue in Iraq and Attempts to Solve It

Dr. Tuğba Evrim Maden, ORSAM Water Research Programme Specialist, temaden@gmail.com

Iraq, which has been in constant conflict for the last three decades with the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988, the Gulf War from 1990-1991, the embargo placed on it between 1990 and 2003 and the US intervention between 2003 and 2011, is in shambles.

While this situation has negatively affected water resource management in Iraq, it has also damaged water infrastructure such as dams and channels.

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, the annual potential in Iraq for access to water is 94.1 billion cubic meters. Given the aforesaid figure, the annual amount of water per capita in Iraq is 2,632 cubic meters. According to the World Bank, this figure was more than 2,500 cubic meters in its 2006 report. According to the “Water in Iraq Factsheet” prepared by the UN, it was 2,400 cubic meters in 2010. The UN World Water Development Report estimates renewable water in Iraq per capita at 3,287 cubic meters. While the inconsistency in data constitutes a major problem on its own, the figures show that Iraq does not experience water scarcity. However, mismanagement of water resources in Iraq and problems related to the quality of water create problems in people’s access to water.

According to 1995 data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in Iraq’s pre-war period, 96 percent of water supplied to Iraqi cities was sanitized, and 48 percent to rural areas was considered clean. Ninety-three percent of city populations and 31 percent of the rural population could access clean water thanks to different sanitation methods. As a result of the bomb attacks by the US in March 2003, dams, pumping stations, channels, sea water desalination plants and wastewater treatment plants were damaged.

The UN predicts that Iraq will have difficulty attaining the 91 percent domestic usage of water in 2015. The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources started work on the 20-year Strategy for Water and Land Resources in Iraq, to cover the years 2015 to 2035, in order to find a solution to the problem of water management, expected to increase in the coming years. The evaluation and detailed mapping of 121 irrigation projects, seven major dams and 18 barrages across the country are included in this plan, which firstly focuses on collecting data and analytic tools that will be necessary to implement the plan. While the first five years of the plan are projected to be a busy period, the project design involves its being updated every five years until 2035.

This plan will be implemented with the support of a management committee, decision-makers and a technical committee, selected from ministries, as well as with the support of domestic institutions. Taking an integrated approach to water resources management, five-year master plans will be prepared in 2015, 2020, 2025 and 2035. Water infrastructure will be privatized within this integrated approach, and capital will be invested by different sectors for sustainable development.

Many countries invest and cooperate in Iraq for the effective use of water resources. To that end, Iraq and the EU signed an agreement on July 25, 2012, to improve the management of water resources in Iraq. The agreement focused on an integrated approach to the management of groundwater, monitoring of water quality and water education.

As for water quality, according to 2004 data, 73 percent of city populations and 43 percent of the rural population have access to clean water. On the other hand, 25 percent of the population in Baghdad does not have access to the water distribution network. According to 2007 data, only 17 percent of wastewater was treated before it was discharged into rivers. As a result, waterborne diseases became widespread among children, and a problem in water quality began to be observed in surface water and aquifers.

According to the “Water in Iraq Factsheet” data released by the UN, 884,000 cases of diarrhea, 57 percent of which were attributed to children under the age of 5, were reported in 2010. Because of waterborne diseases, 41 out of every 1,000 children died before the age of 5. The quality of water used for drinking and agricultural purposes still remains far below the values recommended by Iraqi National Standards and WHO. The agreement also concentrates on water quality to this end and envisages 4 million Iraqi people benefiting from an improved water quality monitoring system.

The excessive use of groundwater in Iraq also requires attention. The fact that aquifer control and management is conducted at a minimum level threatens the quality and quantity of groundwater as well. Within the framework of cooperation between Iraq and the EU, studies will be carried out to analyze the potential of groundwater resources for sustainable management.

The UN stated on World Water Day in 2011 that 50 percent of all used water is being wasted in Iraq. This wastefulness stems from the mismanagement of water resources and damaged water infrastructure (dams, channels, water networks, irrigation systems, etc.), as indicated before. Within the scope of the aforesaid cooperation, water management employees will be trained with modern water management techniques. Additionally, campaigns and training programs to raise public awareness on the economical use water will be carried out.

Water shortage prevails in Basra, southern Iraq, both due to the destruction of wetlands as well as dry periods. The salinization of water further exacerbates the problem. Iraq, in cooperation with Japanese companies, plans to purify salty water in what is called the Grand Basra Water project. It aims to provide the people of Basra with 666,000 cubic meters of water per day by building water transmission networks, storage tanks and a pipeline. Eighty percent of the Basra population will be able to access clean drinking water thanks to this project, which is expected to be completed by 2016.

Should all these plans aimed at improving the management and quality of water resources in Iraq and which will be carried out thanks to major investments be realized and successful, they are expected to be of major benefit to Iraq in terms of its effective use of water resources and alleviating the current water problem to a great extent.


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