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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

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Trump received COVID vaccine at White House in January — CDC director warns "now is not the time" to lift COVID restrictions.
  2. Education: More schools are reopening in the U.S.
  3. Vaccine: J&J CEO "absolutely" confident in vaccine distribution goals Most states aren't prioritizing prisons for COVID vaccines — Vaccine hesitancy is shrinking.
  4. Economy: Apple says all U.S. stores open for the first time since start of pandemic — What's really going on with the labor market.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.
  6. World: Latin America turns to China and Russia for COVID-19 vaccines.
Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Latin America turns to China and Russia for COVID-19 vaccines

Several countries in the Americas have received their first vaccine shipments over the past few weeks — not from the regional superpower or from Western pharmaceutical giants, but from China, Russia, and in some cases India.

Why it matters: North and South America have been battered by the pandemic and recorded several of the world’s highest death tolls. Few countries other than the U.S. have the capacity to manufacture vaccines at scale, and most lack the resources to buy their way to the front of the line for imports. That’s led to a scramble for whatever supply is available.

More schools are reopening in the U.S.

Students settle into a classroom in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

More than 72% of K-12 students are now attending schools that offer in-person or hybrid models of learning.

The big picture: The U.S. is seeing an almost-universal return of schools that were in-person as of November, as well as a gradual return in parts of the country that had been virtual for almost a year.