Iraq faces summer water shortage disaster

June 15, 2009 at 2:15 PM   |   0 comments

BAGHDAD, June 15 (UPI) -- Iraq is headed for an agricultural disaster this summer unless Turkey releases more water from dams on the Euphrates River, an Iraqi minister warned.

Water Resources Minister Abdul-Latif Jamal Rasheed told media outlets that officials from Iraq and Turkey, where the Euphrates originates and flows through Syria, must sit down to settle the long-running dispute over river water volumes.

The Iraqi government hasn't allowed rice farmers in the southern part of the country to plant the crop. Farmers in the city of Najaf recently demonstrated against the move and took to the streets demanding that the government force Turkey to release more water.

"We have been asking them to sign such agreements, but the other sides are not ready," Rasheed said.

An exceptionally dry winter has also led to problems, the Iraqi minister acknowledged. Iraq depends on river water for around 90 percent of its irrigation needs.

The 1,800-mile Euphrates, or the Furat in Arabic and Turkish, eventually joins the Tigris River to form the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which flows to the Persian Gulf and forms Iraq's southern border with Iran. Nearly 90 percent of the river originates from Turkey. Part of the river flows through Syria, which also uses its waters for irrigation.

The 1,100-mile Tigris River is the second-longest river in southwest Asia. It flows through Baghdad, which is located on the conjunction of the Tigris and Diyala rivers.

Turkey promised in March to double the amount of water allowed to flow downstream to Iraq, but that hasn't happened, a report at TreeHugger.com, which is dedicated to environmental sustainability, indicated.

Iraqi experts have said that the flow speed of the Euphrates is 8,100 cubic feet per second, down from 33,000 cubic feet per second in 2000.

International tensions have risen and fallen with water levels since the 1980s, when Turkey embarked on its major dam-building program called the Great Anatolian Project.

A report from the United Nations, released at a recent World Water Forum, said half of the world's population will be living in areas of "acute water shortage" by 2030. Around 120 countries attended the March event in Istanbul, Turkey. Wars could break out over water if a country's water needs aren't met, the report noted.

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