According to the GEO-6 report issued by the UN Environment Programme, Iraq is classified as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to decreased water and food availability and extreme temperatures. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, average temperatures will increase by 2C and rainfall will decrease by 9%.
Iraq’s population, which is entirely dependent on the Tigris and Euphrates along with other smaller rivers for irrigation, drinking and sanitation, has nearly doubled in the past two decades. Still, in a country where corruption and mismanagement can turn a dire situation into a catastrophic one, archaic irrigation methods and depleted infrastructure that have seen no investment are wasting and polluting whatever water remains.
“It was on the edge of the marshes that human history in Iraq began.” So wrote the British traveller Wilfred Thesiger, who lived among the marsh Arabs, the Ma’dan, in the 1950s. At that time, it was possible to navigate the network of rivers, canals and lagoons across the plains of southern Iraq, connecting the Tigris marshes in the east to the central marshes of the Euphrates delta in the west.
The unique ecosystem functioned as a microclimate absorbing heat, with temperatures in the marshes up to 4C lower than in neighbouring areas, and the area was home to exceptional biodiversity. Then came industrialisation and mass agriculture, followed by wars, culminating in Saddam Hussein’s onslaught against the marshes in the 1990s, and now the drought.