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Iraq's agricultural and farming sectors have suffered by a prolonged reduction of water levels in rivers Photo: Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera

Radwaniya, Iraq — The Tigris today is far shallower than it was a year ago, and for farmers in Iraq, that's a catastrophe. 

Why it matters: Increasingly erratic rainfall across the region, along with the construction of dams in upstream Turkey and Iran, have all reduced the amount of water flowing in the key rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates by at least 50% in recent decades, according to Iraqi government officials. Abdel Rahman al-Mashhadani, an economic expert, says a large number of people have migrated from rural areas to the cities as a result of the water shortages. "Our urban areas are imploding and unemployment is on the rise," he says.

The prolonged reduction of water levels in rivers slashes electricity generation from hydroelectric dams, which, in turn, affects the water supply for agriculture and eventually forces the country to import more food than it already does. The increasingly dry seasons have not only resulted in reduced rainfall, but also made the water that is available salty and unsuitable for farming. 

  • According to Zafer Abdullah, an adviser to Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources, Iraq has "only enough water to irrigate half of its farmland this summer." Consequently, the government has now banned the plantation of summer crops, including corn and paddy rice cultivation.
  • Abdelrahman Mansour, 23, says he was left with no choice but to abandon farming and become a construction worker. "We tried to keep our farms alive and well, but the salt water has killed everything," he says.
  • Omar Di'ibil, 35, has been a farmer in Radwaniya, on the outskirts of Baghdad, all his life — just like his father and grandfather before him. Like many others across the country, this year's crippling water shortage has left him able to grow just a few hectares of wheat and barley. Soon, he says, there won't be enough water to grow anything on his once-fertile lands.

What to watch: Turkey and Iran are already holding back water from the Tigris and Euphrates to feed their growing population in a warming climate. Unless new deals are reached, this situation will only get worse, especially after Turkey began holding back water behind its Ilisu Dam on July 1, say officials.

Go deeper

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

6 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.