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Iraq suspends rice farming as water crisis deepens

A severe water crisis in Iraq has forced the government to suspend all cultivation of rice, a staple in the war-torn country’s diet.

An unusually bad drought, coupled with new dam projects upstream of its main rivers, has led the government’s agriculture ministry to take the drastic step of halting all farming of rice, corn and cereals that demand large amounts of water.

“The agricultural plan for the summer was modified because the quantities of water needed are not available”, Hamid al-Nayef, a ministry spokesman, said. “The ministry does not take this decision lightheartedly.”

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which supply some 98 per cent of the country’s water, are at their lowest levels in living memory.

Footage taken last month showed residents of Baghdad walking across the Tigris, with the water reaching only to their knees.

In the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, thousands of dead fish were found floating dead on the banks of the dried-up river.

Some Iraqi officials have blamed Turkey, while Kurdish officials have blamed Iran. Both neighbouring countries have in recent years rerouted cross-border water sources they share with Iraq.

Turkey started filling the Ilisu Dam – one of 22 dams and 19 power plants being built as part of their ambitious hydroelectric project – in March, earlier than the expected June 1 date agreed, which would have allowed more to flow before the agricultural growing season.

Since then the level of water flowing into Iraq from Turkey has gone down by 50 per cent, the head of Mosul dam said earlier this month.

Ankara last week agreed to postpone the project for a month to allow a sufficient level of water to flow back into Iraq.

Significantly lower water levels are seen on the Tigris River, in Baghdad, Iraq

Credit:
AP

Shwan Mohammed, professor specialising in ground water management water at the Polytechnic University of Sulaimaniyah in Iraq, said the government needed to build more of its own dams and better maintain the ones it already had.

“The process of building dams was stopped in the 1990s due to the second Gulf war and UN sanctions. None of the existing Iraqi dams were filled to their maximum storage capacities during the 21st century,” he said.

For years Iraq has seen its water resources decrease but the problem has been largely ignored because of more immediate challenges, such as the takeover over much of the country by the Islamic State.

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/06/19/iraq-suspends-rice-farming-water-crisis-deepens/

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