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 FAO’s El Hadj Hassan. Some of the displaced have moved to swampy areas where water is still available, while others have given up their traditional way of life and moved to cities like Basra or Baghdad.
Tensions are rising among those who remain in the swamps, and security consultants believe that water shortages, and the disappearance of swamps in particular, could affect national security. According to Amir Hennessy, a former risk analyst at G4S Consulting, “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 terrorists. groups – “which promise an attractive future.”
According to Nature Iraq, the recent drying up of the swamps has caused a collapse in wildlife diversity, drastically reducing the population of the binni, a brownish-golden fish highly prized by marsh Arabs. “Two thousand officially registered fishermen have lost their source of income and are currently unemployed,” Saleh Hadi of Dhi Qara’s agriculture department said in October.
Before the drought, the IUCN-listed marbled teal duck seemed to thrive in the swamps, as did the endangered Basra warbler and the local Iraqi babbler. But due to falling water levels, according to Nature Iraq, these birds can be seen much less frequently.
Livestock is also suffering. The water buffaloes that graze in the rivers now have difficulty finding clean water and enough food; thousands died due to disease and malnutrition. “The low water level is having a devastating effect on buffalo farmers,” said Samah Hadid, a spokesman for the NRC. “The buffalo breeders we talk to are getting more and more desperate.”
Like prospects worsening for communities in the Iraqi swamps, NGOs are promoting actions that can reduce the impact of the drought, including investment in water filtration and purification systems for areas with high levels of salinity. They are pushing Iraqi authorities at the national and regional levels to collect more data on water flows and the effects of scarcity, and to improve aquifer management to prevent over-pumping that reduces the quantity and quality of groundwater.
The Iraqi government provides some grain farmers with salt-tolerant wheat; breeders are working on drought-resistant sugar beets; and academics advocate for programs that offer conflict management training to communities that are fighting for a fair distribution of water resources.
For years, Iraq has been negotiating with its upstream neighbors to allow more water to flow across its border, but the situation has not improved. In January 2022 Iraq announced he will file a lawsuit against Iran in the International Court of Justice for cutting off access to water, but the case has not progressed. 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 the water levels behind the Turkish dams, but Turkey did not take responsibility for Iraq’s water shortage. Instead, Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Ali Riza Güney accused the Iraqis of “squandering” their water resources and urged the nation to reduce water usage and modernize its irrigation systems.
Precipitation in the region is expected to be below average in the new year. according to United Nations World Food Program and FAO. With the effects of climate change worsening and the lack of projected improvements in water management, the outlook for the Iraqi Mesopotamian swamps and the communities that depend on them looks bleak.