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Water Shortages Have Impact In Iraq, Yemen

News coverage examines water shortages in Iraq and Yemen:

“A water shortage described as the most critical since the earliest days of Iraq’s civilisation is threatening to leave up to 2 million people in the south of the country without electricity and almost as many without drinking water,” the Guardian reports. Recently, Abdul Latif Rashid, Iraq’s water minister, estimated that up to 300,000 marshland residents have fled their land for nearby towns and cities that are unable to support them.

The crisis “has many causes, both man-made and natural,” according to the newspaper. “Two winters of significantly lower than normal rainfalls … have followed six years of crippling instability, in which industry barely functioned and agriculture struggled to meet half of subsistence needs.”

In the last few years, many new dams and reservoirs built in Turkey, Syria and Iran, which share the Euphrates and its small tributaries have ended up starving the river of its “lifeblood, which throughout the ages has guaranteed bountiful water, even during drought. At the same time, irrigators have tried tilling marginal land in an attempt for quick yields and in all cases the projects have been abandoned,” the Guardian writes (Chulov, 8/26).

IRIN also examines the situation in Iraq where “[l]arge tracts of once fertile agricultural land are becoming semi-desert, and sandstorms are becoming increasingly common as soil-binding plants shrivel up. At least 20 sandstorms have occurred in Iraq since the beginning of 2009, causing deaths and respiratory problems, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry.”

Water shortages have led to higher levels of soil salinity, which has affected the country’s wheat and rice harvests. Last year, most of the wheat and rice in Iraq was imported to meet domestic needs. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organizationit said 2009 is Iraq’s worst cereal harvest in a decade. The Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish water ministers are set to meet in Ankara, Turkey, on September 3 to discuss drought in the region, IRIN reports (8/31).

Reuters reports that a water shortage is “Yemen’s number one problem,” according to Naji Abu Hatim, a Yemeni expert at the World Bank. Hosny Khordagui, head of the U.N. Development Programme’s water governance programme in Arab countries, said, “Yemen’s water share per capita is under 100 cubic metres a year, compared to the water poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres.”

According to the news service, “Arab states, except Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon, all fall short of the water poverty line and the regional trend, blamed on climate change, is towards consistently lower rainfall. Unlike wealthy Gulf oil states, Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, is ill-placed to fill the gap between supply and demand with desalination.”

Jac van der Gun, director of the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre, says that “[m]ismanagement of water resources” is one reason why Yemen is worse off than neighbours such as Oman. “The government, backed by foreign donors, began applying a comprehensive strategy for water resources, irrigation, water supply, the environment and capacity building in 2005. But experts describe implementation as patchy,”  Reuters writes (Lyon, 8/30). IRIN examines the effect of the drought on Yemen’s local herders (8/30).