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Since 2008, Iraq has been afflicted by a drought which has transformed the former “breadbasket” of the country into an importer of food, fulfilling 80% of the country’s food demand via purchases from foreign countries. In 2008, rainfall numbers dropped to one-fifth of the normal average and in 2009, rainfall increased but still remained at only one-half of the average. Neighboring countries such as Turkey, Syria, and Iran are withdrawing greater amounts of water from the rivers, which impacts water resources downstream of the Tigris and Euphrates. As a consequence, power plants have been shut down due to water deficiency. Water influx from Turkey and Syria was supposedly reduced by half. The main victim is Iraq’s agriculture sector which utilizes 90% of available water supplies for irrigation.

The construction of levees, occurring mostly in Turkey and Iran, but also in Iraq, has added to the problem. In 2009, Ankara announced the construction of another major levee called Ilisu at the Tigris River. Thereafter, tensions regarding water supply, especially with Turkey, have deepened.

The availability and quality of drinking water for the population have suffered enormously.   According to the United Nations, only one-third of the population has access to clean drinking water. The use of wastewater treatment plants is even lower which has likely contributed to the cholera outbreak in eight provinces in the August of 2008.

Iraq has a complex and effective water system at its disposal, the origins of which date back to the ancient world. The fall of Baghdad and the pillage of the Ministry of Irrigation (Water Resources) caused irretrievable knowledge and documents to be lost. While the government is attempting to improve the situation, the war, investment holdups, and maladministration have made conditions even worse.

Iraq owns eight major levees with a ninth under construction. Furthermore, the country has twelve large-scale dams for irrigation regulation (“barrages”). Nearly 275 large pumping stations distribute water through 27,000 km of irrigation canals. The irrigated agricultural area measures 3.25 million hectares. In times of average water resources, levees accounted for nearly one-fifth of generated electricity.

The overall demand for investments in the water sector is estimated to be around USD 15 bn. The Ministry of Water Resources has worked out a “roadmap” for the water sector. The planned development and extension of irrigated acreage will have a substantial impact on Iraq’s water supply. According to Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid, Minister for Water Resources, an additional 7.2 million donums (1 donum = 0.25 hectare) of acreage are to be irrigated. Between 2010 and 2014, the site development of 4 million donums is currently planned.  Part of the strategy is the construction of new levees, amongst others the Bakhdama, the Badoosh, the Mendawa as well as the Bakderma and the Khalikan in the Al-Khazer River. An additional component of the program is the mandatory rehabilitation of the Al-Mosul levee.

Losses are to be reduced by the use of extra gasket seals for irrigation canals as well as by the application of modern irrigation methods. In order to improve water supply in areas detached from the river systems, the Ministry has begun to implement a well-drilling program. Between 2003 and 2009, 3,395 wells were drilled. 1,000 wells are to be added on an annual basis.
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