Twilight of the Tigris: Iraq’s mighty river drying up

Iraq may be oil-rich but the country is plagued by poverty after decades of war and by droughts and desertification.

https://www.kurdistan24.net/en/story/29511-Twilight-of-the-Tigris:-Iraq%27s-mighty-river-drying-up

It was the river that is said to have watered the biblical Garden of Eden and helped give birth to civilization itself.

But today the Tigris is dying.

Human activity and climate change have choked its once mighty flow through Iraq, where — with its twin river the Euphrates — it made Mesopotamia a cradle of civilization thousands of years ago.

Iraq may be oil-rich but the country is plagued by poverty after decades of war and by droughts and desertification.

Battered by one natural disaster after another, it is one of the five countries most exposed to climate change, according to the UN.

From April on, temperatures exceed 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and intense sandstorms often turn the sky orange, covering the country in a film of dust.

Hellish summers see the mercury top a blistering 50 degrees Celsius — near the limit of human endurance — with frequent power cuts shutting down air-conditioning for millions.

The Tigris, the lifeline connecting the storied cities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra, has been choked by dams, most of them upstream in Turkey, and falling rainfall. 

An AFP video journalist traveled along the river’s 1,500-kilometre (900-mile) course through Iraq, from the rugged Kurdish north to the Gulf in the south, to document the ecological disaster that is forcing people to change their ancient way of life.  

Kurdish north: ‘Less water every day’

The Tigris’ journey through Iraq begins in the mountains of autonomous Kurdistan, near the borders of Turkey and Syria, where local people raise sheep and grow potatoes.

“Our life depends on the Tigris,” said farmer Pibo Hassan Dolmassa, 41, wearing a dusty coat, in the town of Faysh Khabur. “All our work, our agriculture, depends on it.  

“Before, the water was pouring in torrents,” he said, but over the last two or three years “there is less water every day”.

Iraq’s government and Kurdish farmers accuse Turkey, where the Tigris has its source, of withholding water in its dams, dramatically reducing the flow into Iraq.

According to Iraqi official statistics, the level of the Tigris entering Iraq has dropped to just 35 percent of its average over the past century.  

Baghdad regularly asks Ankara to release more water. 

But Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Ali Riza Guney, urged Iraq to “use the available water more efficiently”, tweeting in July that “water is largely wasted in Iraq”.

He may have a point, say experts. Iraqi farmers tend to flood their fields, as they have done since ancient Sumerian times, rather than irrigate them, resulting in huge water losses.

Central plains: ‘We sold everything’ –

(Continued)

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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