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Iraqi Kurdish farmers battle drought as Lake Dukan recedes

#Iraqi #Kurdish #farmers #battle #drought #Lake #Dukan #recedes

Farmers in Iraqi Kurdistan looking to irrigate their crops are watching their economic lifeline collapse as the waters of Lake Dukan recede and dams upstream in Iran stem the flow.

Bapir Kalkani, who is also a trade unionist, farms near the scenic lake but has seen marked changes over the past three years as Iraq suffers from prolonged drought.

“There was water where I’m standing now,” said the 56-year-old in 2019. “It used to go three kilometers further, but the level has gone down.”

Sesame and beans are grown on the plain under the blazing sun, bordering the lake fed by a tributary of the Tigris, the Lower Zab, which has its source in Iran.

The large artificial lake was created in the 1950s after the construction of the Dukan Dam to provide the region with irrigation and drinking water and to generate electricity.

But in recent years, both the lake and the river – like all rivers in Iraq – have been shrinking.

The country is ranked as one of the five countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and desertification.

Its water reserves have fallen by 60 percent compared to last year, the government says.

– Precipitation is becoming rarer –

As rainfall has become scarce and after three consecutive years of drought, Iraq has been forced to halve the area used for agriculture.

“If we hadn’t had a little rain in late spring, there would have been no harvest in Kurdistan this year,” Kalkani said.

Farmers in the area used to dig shallow wells fed by the Dukan to irrigate their crops. But not anymore.

“The wells have lost 70 percent of their water,” he said.

Sesame farmer Shirko Aziz Ahmed had to dig a well several meters deep to get water and pump it with a diesel-powered pump.

“Sesame needs a lot of water, so I’ll have to dig even deeper when the water level goes down,” he said.

Drought is not the only cause of farmers’ water problems.

Iran has built several dams on the lower Zab, most notably the Kolsa Dam.

“The Kolsa Dam has lowered the water level of the Lower Zab by at least 80 percent,” said Banafsheh Keynoush of the Middle East Institute in Washington.

She said Iran is going through one of the worst droughts in its history and needs to revise its irrigation policy.

– Dam building hype in Iran –

“Iran is in the process of dam construction and many of its dams are small,” she told AFP.

Iraq’s Dukan Dam has also been badly affected by the reduced river flow, said its director, Kochar Jamal Tawfeeq.

“Now we only have 41 percent, less than half the capacity” of the dam, he said.

It provides drinking water for “about three million people in Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk,” two major cities downstream, he said.

But with just 300 mm (less than 12 inches) of precipitation last year – half the previous year’s average – the skies have not been generous. And Tawfeeq said 2022 is on track to mirror last year’s numbers.

“We release 90 cubic meters per second,” said the director. “When the reservoir is full, we’ll release 200 to 250.”

Tawfeeq said farmers were told “not to grow crops that require too much water”.

He said Baghdad has sent teams to Iran to discuss reduced flow of the lower Zab River, but “there is no Iranian cooperation.”

Iran claims its contribution to river flow into the Tigris and Euphrates basins is only about six percent, according to Keynoush.

“What Iran is trying to say is: ‘The Euphrates and Tigris problems that you have are really between you and Turkey,'” she added of where the two main rivers have their sources.

But Iraq itself is not above criticism, said Azzam Alwash, founder of the non-governmental organization Nature Iraq and adviser to the president.

Iraqi Kurdistan in the north plans to build new dams, but the projects are not coordinated with Baghdad, Alwash said.

Downstream, in central and southern Iraq, a lack of modernization of water resources is exacerbating the situation and could lead to disaster, he warned.

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#Iraqi #Kurdish #farmers #battle #drought #Lake #Dukan #recedes

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