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Kurdish Authorities Call for Water Restrictions

Qassim Khidhir Hamad
Government officials in the Kurdistan Region are calling for the introduction of strictly enforced water preservation measures in a bid to prevent a looming water shortage crisis.
8.10.2009  |  Erbil

Water wastage is a huge problem in the region as it faces drought and restricted access to water from neighbouring countries. Walk down any street in the region and water can be seen flowing out of most houses.

Officials say that installing water meters and fining inhabitants for excess use is an urgent necessity. According to the Water Directorate of Erbil city, capital of the Kurdistan region, each person in the city is allocated 360 litres of daily water, but many people use much more than this amount.

"I am worried about the future of Erbil’s water," said Massoud Karash, Director of water issues in Erbil city. "Ten years ago we used to dig 100 meters to reach water, but now in some places we have to dig 300 meters to reach water."

Karash told Niqash that the regional government needed to act quickly to save water for future generations.

The main source of water in Erbil city is local wells and the Zab river. Every day the Erbil directorate of water produces 356,800m3 and the water is distributed through a network of pipe lines running more than 1,800 km long.

With climate change, however, and longer periods of droughts less water is now available in the region’s rivers and wells. Moreover, neighbouring countries, most notably Turkey, have been building dams and restricting the flow of water into Northern Iraq.

According to officials this problem is then compounded by the over-zealous desire of many inhabitants to keep their homes and cars spotlessly clean without concern for their water use. Additionally, a huge amount of water is wasted from roof tanks which are overflowing day and night as many people don’t possess the necessary measurement device to stop the flow of water.

A Swedish Engineering Company, SWECO, has already installed 100 water meters in homes in the Kwestan quarter of Erbil and according to initial figures provided by the devices, the Kurdish Region rates vey high on the level of water usage relative to other countries.

"After the measurement we discovered that each person uses 800 litres of water a day, which is very high compared to other countries," said Jose Ramirez, a SWECO water engineer.

Ramirez pointed out that in Denmark one person uses an average of 120 litres of water per day, which is considered the lowest in the world. In Sweden each person uses an average of 300 litres and in Turkey 580 litres every day.

"Here in Kurdistan, people waste a huge amount of water by washing their homes twice or three times in day, washing their cars and irrigating their gardens," said Ramirez.

People know that they waste water but they don't do anything about it as water is so cheap, says Farhad Muhammad, Water Director for Suleimaniya city.

At the moment every house pays one dollar for unlimited water use each month, with the government subsiding the cost by an astounding 89 percent. In most other countries, by contrast, governments make a profit on water production and distribution.

Moreover, the Kurdistan Region does not currently have any laws regarding water usage. It is only the recent threat of water shortages that has pushed authorities to address the issue.

According to the General Director of the Kurdistan Region water and sewage division, Nihad Izaddin, the installation of water meters monitoring the water usage of every household and the subsequent fining of those who use more than their allotted amount is the only way to solve the problem.

"Without punishment, people's behaviour will not change," Izaddin told Niqash. "The aim of installing water meters is not to increase the price of water but to force people to handle water with more care."

Izaddin says that the Kurdistan Regional Government has already initiated a plan to install more than 100,000 water meters across the region by the end of the year, as the first stage towards fitting all homes with the device.

The Kwestan neighbourhood in Erbil is the first area to be subject to the new regulations, with 600 water meters already installed. A local campaign has also been launched and the government says it hopes to turn it into a model for the rest of the region.