Wed | Nov 21, 2018

Iraq bans farming summer crops as water crisis grows dire

Published:Thursday | July 5, 2018 | 4:33 PM
In this June 26, 2018 photo, a farmer walks through his fallow field where he normally grows rice, in the Iraqi town of Mishkhab south of Najaf. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

MISHKHAB, Iraq (AP) — Iraq has banned its farmers from planting summer crops this year as the country grapples with a crippling water shortage that shows few signs of abating.

Citing high temperatures and insufficient rains, Dhafer Abdalla, an adviser to Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources, told The Associated Press that the country has only enough water to irrigate half its farmland this summer.

But, farmers fault the government for failing to modernise how it manages water and irrigation, and they blame neighbouring Turkey for stopping up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers behind dams it wants to keep building.

The volume of water flowing in these two vital rivers — which together give Iraq its ancient name, Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers — fell by over 60 percent in two decades, according to a 2012 report by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“What’s happened this year is a combination of low rainfall, low groundwater, and the new dam that Turkey has built,” said Paul Schlunke, a senior emergency response coordinator for the FAO in Erbil.

“It means there’s no water for the south Iraq," he said.

The orders against sowing rice, corn, and other crops this summer came as a shock to the towns and villages in the once fertile plains south of Baghdad, where the local economy depends on farming. Nationwide, one in five Iraqis works in agriculture.

In Iraq’s rice belt, the farmland is cracked and dry.

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