June 29, 2008

Iraqi Farmers, Fish-Breeders Complain About Water “Scarcity”

Text of report by Iraqi Media Network weekly newspaper Al-Sabah on 14 June

[Report by Husayn Thaghab in Baghdad: "The Drop in Water Levels Worries Farmers, Fish-Breeders"]

It [water scarcity] is a fact that has a negative impact on the reality of agriculture and life in Iraq. It has started to complicate the problems of the Iraqi economy and to increase the imbalance, which it suffers from, in all activities that support the economy.

Agriculture, which is considered to be one of the main pillars of the Iraqi economy, is starting to be affected today because of the water scarcity during the past period. It is shifting the market from one situation to another, leaving a clear impact on the nature of prices, especially since the world is experiencing a food crisis, which casts a shadow over the world and which portends a rise in poverty. The drop in the water levels of the Tigris and Euphrates has kept investment away from, and halted the production of, large agricultural areas, which supply various kinds of agricultural crops and also fish to the local market.

There are many fish-breeding farms along the basins of the Tigris and Euphrates. These farms produce thousands of tonnes of fish.

Husayn Ali Muhammad, a fish-breeder who lives in the Al-Karmah district in western Baghdad, says: I have been working in the field of fish-breeding for 20 years. I have expanded in the field of fish- breeding. The number of fish aquariums I owned increased to 10 aquariums, and production expanded to include different types [of fish] that are sold on our local market at prices that suit the level of income of Iraqi families. Today, however, the situation is different due to the water scarcity and the gradual drop in the number of fish aquariums to three aquariums. In the coming period, this number will drop to two aquariums if the water levels continue to fall. Some months ago, I started to depend on the water of drainage canals to meet the shortage in the water from rivers. However, I find that mixing water from rivers with that from drainage canals has negative effects on the production of the remaining fish aquariums.

Muhammad Adwan Abu-Salam, owner of fish-breeding farms in the Baghdad suburbs, says: The neighbouring countries' control of the water of the Tigris and Euphrates has started to raise our fears and to worry us, especially since we depend on fish-breeding in our daily life. Fish-breeding is considered to be our only source of livelihood. For 51 years, I have been allocating the area of land I own for fish-breeding through dividing the land into several farms. I found that this profession is profitable and it has great economic feasibility for the individual and society. The water shortage has started to negatively affect our daily life because the number of aquariums is falling in most of the neighbouring areas, especially those that are far from the mouths of the rivers.

Ammar Muhammad al-Dallawi, a farmer who lives in northern Baghdad, says: The effects of the drought have started to adversely affect our daily life. Production has stopped in many areas of agricultural lands. I am one of the farmers who have been affected by the drought. After I used to cultivate 80 donums, which I own, today I cultivate only 10 donums due to the shortage of irrigation water. In irrigating the land, I depend on water from both the river, which is supplied to us on and off, and on water from artesian wells. This has caused the production of the agricultural unit to drop to 60 per cent of what it was in the past. I have started to think about finding alternatives to secure water. I had no option but wells, and this needs water pumps, fuel, and other things that complicate the agricultural process.

Meanwhile, Nuri Kazim, director general at the Water Resources Ministry, said that the deficit in the water of joint rivers that enters Iraq from three countries - Turkey, Syria, and Iran - may reach more than 33 billion cu. m. in 2015 if a fair division is not reached between these countries and Iraq.

At present, Iraq's needs total around 50 billion cu. m. for the purposes of drinking, agriculture, and household and industrial consumption, while the area of cultivable land all over the country does not exceed 100,000 sq. km. and its production is low. The current water resources of all the rivers of Iraq total 43.92 billion cu. m., including the water of the Tigris, 9.78 billion cu. m.; and the water of the Euphrates, 8.45 billion cu. m.

Officials at the Water Resources Ministry have said that the stored amount of water in Iraq is low and it does not match the high storage capacities, which total 148 billion cu. m., because of the small amount of water that reaches the country through the Tigris and Euphrates.

Originally published by Al-Sabah, Baghdad, in Arabic 14 Jun 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Middle East. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.