A year ago, things were very different in Dhi Qar, Haj Kamel Mohammed says, as he digs a channel that will eventually help irrigate his vegetables.
“I was forced to buy water from tanks,” the 65-year-old recounts. Last summer, the lack of water led to all kinds of problems in the southern province of Dhi Qar, including tribal feuds, anger because some people were using more than their fair share as well as demonstrations in the cities. There was also forced displacement as locals left their drought-stricken villages.
“Last year, the judiciary here recorded 22 tribal conflicts that were due to the water crisis,” Ali Hussein Raddad, mayor of the Al Islah district in the southeast of the province and an agricultural engineer by trade, told NIQASH.
But this year things are different. During the crisis at least 400 artesian wells were dug in the province, the governor of Dhi Qar, Adel al-Dukhili, said, which has helped solve the water problems here.
The department of water resources also sought the help of local security forces in Dhi Qar to try and police the water quota violations that were clearly going on. This too has helped navigate the province’s water crisis.
The early rains and a lot of rain in the winter of 2018 has also had a positive effect, says Adnan Abdallah of the local Centre for the Restoration of Iraqi Marshes in Dhi Qar.
One of the big challenges for officials in Dhi Qar now is a welcome one: How to plan for next summer’s agriculture. The schedule would see planting extended for 187 square kilometres, with 20 kilometres for rice, 90 for white corn and the remaining kilometres for crops like watermelon, eggplant and cucumber, explains Faraj Nahi, a director at the local department of agriculture. The expansion is mostly credited to an increase in water levels in the Garraf river, a branch of the Tigris that flows from out of Wasit province. The whole province has become more dependent on the Garraf because the also-nearby Euphrates is becoming saltier, and therefore the water is not as usable.
Local economist Ahmad al-Zubairi expressed some doubt about the efficacy of the new provincial planting plans. Recently the Iraqi government has made it more expensive to buy imported foodstuffs, in an attempt to try and better support local growers, al-Zubairi explained. “But it ends up being a big challenge for local people who have les purchasing power as a result,” he argued.
What the authorities should be doing is coming up with a focused strategy for the planting of different kinds of crops in an effort to make optimal use of water supplies, al-Zubairi concluded.