Water scarcity from Turkey, Iran causes ‘wildlife disaster’ in Iraq

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – In a rare scene, video footage publicized on Sunday for thousands of dead fish washed ashore in the Dhi Qar Governorate, southern Iraq, has raised concerns of residents and experts in the region of a drastic drought crisis the country will face.

The Chibayish marshes, one of Iraq’s famed marshlands listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site that were once a thriving aquatic ecosystem in Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes, have been turned to almost completely desert due to a drought crisis.

Locals of the area are facing major challenges due to the drastic decrease in water levels in marshlands, which are part of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, due to the scarcity of water released from neighbors like Turkey and Iran, who hold water in dam and canal projects.

Iraqi areas are witnessing water scarcity, which has also caused damage to the agricultural sector, in a recurring scene such as the drought that hit the Tigris River in 2018, when Turkey began filling the newly built Ilisu Dam.

Iraq and Syria have repeatedly demanded Turkey, the upstream country, to abide by international agreements, based on the rights of riparian states on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers as two international rivers, which have caused significant damage to the agricultural and animal sectors and the lives of the population in the downstream countries.

Baghdad insists that, according to international agreements that must be applied, the absolute amount of the Euphrates River must reach the downstream countries from the Syrian-Turkish border to 500 cubic meters per second (42% for Syria, equivalent to 210 cubic meters, and 58% for Iraq, equivalent to 290 cubic meters).

Ayoub Muhammad, an Iraqi fisherman, voiced his concerns, highlighting the urgent need for the “civil society organizations and United Nations” to solve the water crisis because “it is the source of our livelihood.”

He wondered, “If the fish die, how will we live? If the buffalo dies, how will we survive?”

He demanded that “relevant authorities” consider the issue of the people of the marshes.

Iraqi officials suggested that the drought is the reason for this “wildlife disaster.”

Ahmad Habib al-Asadi, an environmental activist, said that the scarcity of water flow from the neighboring countries “Turkey and Iran” is the cause for the decreasing level of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

He added, “The lack of oxygen and the increased salinity within the marshes have also resulted in the death of large quantities of fish and buffalo.”

Local experts indicate that the drought wave is the worst in 40 years in the central Chibayish marshes of Dhi Qar Governorate, and it has resulted in the widespread death of fish.

Reporting by Saya Muhammad