From 16-17 May 2020 the Virtual Assembly of the Mesopotamian Water Forum will take place online. 1 year after the first Mesopotamian Water Forum held in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, water movements and civil society organizations from Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran – the four states of the Tigris-Euphrates basin – will take part in 2 days of discussion and debate, joined by other internationals. Since the Virtual Assembly will be held in English, participating activists from the Mesopotamian region will organize local virtual assemblies in local languages, to prepare for the main regional discussion. In this series, we will provide summaries of each local assembly, prior to the main Virtual Assembly taking place from 16-17 May.
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Mesopotamian Water Forum Local Assembly of Iraq, 16-17 April 2020
By Humat Dijlah Assocation
In preparation of the Virtual Assembly of the Mesopotamain Water Forum, Humat Dijlah Association organized a local assembly for Iraq on 16-17 April, which included a large number of environmental activists and other people from various governorates interested in water issues.
The local assembly of Iraq discussed the environmental reality and the extent to which water infrastructure has been affected by the measures taken in Iraq to confront the Covid-19 pandemic. The outcomes of the first 2019 Mesopotamian Water Forum were also reviewed, assessing what has been accomplished. The local assembly sought to find answers to a number of pivotal questions, including the impact of measures now in place to prevent the spread of the virus, water provision, and the development of water infrastructures in Iraq. Participants discussed challenges posed by the preventive measures and their impact on all levels of society, while expressing that this moment in time, despite its very real difficulties, constitutes an ideal opportunity to relieve the environment from some of the burdens such as excessive consumption and high pollution. Cessation of economic activities during the period of domestic quarantine has had a positive effect on the environment. Participants in the forum considered ways these effects might be sustained in the future given the return of economic activities post-crisis.
Participants reported on water infrastructures and agreed that measures taken to meet water needs during the period of curfew have contributed to a reduction of overall water consumption rates, despite increased domestic consumption due to the population being at home. Percentages of domestic water consumption do not match those of industrial and agricultural consumption, which decreased significantly during the same period. However, activists believe that the imposed curfew may double the demand for local agricultural production, which will bring about higher rates of water consumption in the upcoming period. Given this, it is necessary to anticipate these needs and ensure that adequate quantities of water are available to meet the national domestic and agricultural needs.
According to Salman Khairallah (executive director of the Humat Dijlah Association), Iraq has a good water surplus this year, but the problems of water management still cast a shadow: he warned that mismanagement, the cultivation of crops which demand high water-consumption, the excessive use of surface water by farmers, and the failure of authorities to stop pollution all weaken Iraq’s water system. Khairallah also stressed the need to treat wastewater, especially considering that water might play a role in the spread of the epidemic.
The local assembly of Iraq explored the impact of dams on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, especially in upstream countries. Dams continue to jeopardize Iraq’s chance of achieving genuine water security. According to Salman Khairallah, Turkey is still moving forward with its GAP project including the completion of its dams, while Iran continues to construct irrigation projects, reservoirs and dams of various sizes on the tributaries of the Tigris. Neither country is taking into account Iraq’s water rights nor the needs of its residents, and the Iraqi government has not actively pursued the issue, hereby failing to safeguard Iraq’s water rights.
The first day of the meeting explored the issue of local dams. Activists explained that the Kurdistan Region is seeking to build three new dams near the Iraqi-Turkish border on the Greater Zab (one of the tributaries of the Tigris River). Activists denounced the proposals and rejected the possibility of building more dams. Some noted that the natural reservoirs (lakes, swamps, and marshes) across Iraq represent a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative if their suggestions are adopted. Participants insisted that water could be stored there instead of building more dams.
Activist Samim Salam, coordinator of Humat al-Forat in Ramadi, gave a briefing on water issues in Anbar province, stressing that the current abundance of water does not negate the fact that lack of water river management constitutes a continuous challenge to water security in the province. Another activist, Asaad Al-Kenani from Maysan, indicated that the current abundance of water does not eliminate fears of a recurrence of crises given the fact that the central marshes still suffer from water scarcity.
On the second day of the assembly, the declaration of the first Mesopotamian Water Forum in 2019 was discussed, which stressed that mutual regional efforts and constructive communication between civil society across the region should continue, in an effort to enhance solidarity and elevate the water issue from a local to a regional one, closely tied to the security of the region its population. As it stands now, the issue of joint water management remains outside of the main concerns of the basin countries. Dr. Ismaeel Dawood stressed that the efforts of civil society in the region have resulted in the birth of new cross-border networks. Various civil society groups and organizations have worked to oppose opportunistic water management unilateral policies to exploit the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and this in turn has strengthened the ability of civil society to communicate on behalf of local communities. A united and strong civil society movement has directly contributed to opposing large infrastructure projects which only took into account the interests of partisan and self-interested governments more than the region’s future water security, especially its water food security and environmental sustainability.
Dr. Muhammad Ali (From the College of Agriculture at Wasit University) stated that Iraq needs to adopt the system of water footprints, to ensure national needs are and to avoid the wasteful consumption of water resources. Water footprints could be defined for individuals, companies and other communities as the total amount of fresh water that is used for the production of goods and services consumed by the individual, society or company.
As for legal solutions for environmental problems, attorney Israa Falah (member of Humat Dijlah Association) explained that Iraqi laws and legislation do provide some guarantees to protect the environment, including water resources. However, this legislation is either too weak to deal with urgent water issues, or its application is insufficient.
Activists Raafat Al-Hiti and Laith Al-Ubaidi (representatives of Humat Dijlah in Anbar and Diwaniyah) recommended that training should be offered to academics, artists, media and university students before participation in the second regional water forum.