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A Cruel, Cruel Summer?
In Karbala, Locals Plan Ahead For Serious Drought

Abbas Sarhan
The drought of 2008 saw Karbala locals forced to leave homes and businesses. As river levels drop and anxieties rise, many in southern Iraq fear a similarly cruel summer.
Water worries: Women collecting water from a well in Iraq. (photo: آرام كمال - ميتروغرافي)
Water worries: Women collecting water from a well in Iraq. (photo: آرام كمال - ميتروغرافي)

The district of Husseiniya, north-east of the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, used to look more like a forest. This was because of all the orchards and trees in this district and the river that passes through here, also called Husseiniya. The river has been a constant here – until now. It's been a very dry winter in this part of Iraq and water levels have fallen considerably.

Now farmers in the area don’t know if the water will be enough to irrigate their crops and they fear this may be one of the worst summers ever, thanks to the drought they're all predicting.

The Husseiniya Rover is just one example of a water source that's becoming increasingly muddy and shallow. Others include the Hindiyah and Hunaydiyah rivers.

“We have heard people talking about the decrease in water levels and we have seen it with our own eyes too,” says Sijad Kathim, a 56-year-old local farmer. “We're really starting to worry that even ordinary people won't be able to get water anymore.”

Karbala locals fear another drought as bad as that in 2008, which caused many to leave their homes and farms for, literally, greener pastures.

And it seems as though the local authorities are similarly perplexed. Many of the water treatment plants here are not working properly at the moment. “About 15 of these plants have stopped working because of the decrease in water levels,” says Karbala central's mayor, Hassan al-Mankousi. “And this has prompted the local government to intervene and dig new holes to keep a number of them running.”

The authorities have been digging what are known as infiltration wells near the rivers in order to increase water flow. However this method, which has been useful in the past, could prove useless if the Euphrates' levels drop further. The authorities say they are also digging artesian wells that can be connected to household water supplies if necessary.

“This seems to be the only choice left if water levels continue to decrease in such a rapid and frightening way,” local agricultural engineer Fayed Abdul-Razak told NIQASH. “But the amount of water that these wells can produce is unlikely to be able to meet the needs of the more than 1 million people living in this area, let alone the agricultural needs.”

“We will still be able to provide people with drinking water,” suggests Ala al-Qazwini, an engineer working for Karbala's Directorate of Agriculture. “But its' going to be difficult to supply farms and animals if the river levels continue to drop.”

“And some areas that used to be able to extract ground water below the surface at around 20 to 30 meters are now having to go down to more than 100 meters below ground level,” he continues, “which makes the water extraction process extremely expensive.”

And then there are the problems caused by Turkey's damming of the Euphrates River. It is well known that Turkish dams across the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers reduce the flow of water into Iraq, Iran and Syria and it's an ongoing cause of disputes between the various governments. Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources says that before Turkey dammed the Euphrates there were around 30 billion cubic tonnes of water flowing into Iraq. That has since halved, and the amount seems to be getter smaller still.

The Iraqi government has accused the Turkish of not honouring agreements about the flow of water into the country. However the Turkish government says that they too are suffering because of drought conditions and that Iraqis are to blame because of an inefficient and outdated irrigation system that wastes too much water.

As the Iraqi summer approaches, bringing with it temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius, it is hard to know what locals can do, other than hope for the best – and some rain, somewhere - anywhere - upriver.

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