LSE Conflict Research Programme releases report on Basra water crisis

Below is the Executive Summary of Failing Flows: Water Management in Southern Iraq by Azhar al-Rubaie, Michael Mason, and Zainab Mehd published by the London School of Economics’s Conflict Research Programme in July 2021.


In July 2018 massive protests erupted in Basra city as residents demanded improvements in public services. Failings in water management were at the heart of local grievances: an outbreak of water-related illnesses was triggered by the increased use of polluted water from the Shatt al-Arab, Basra’s traditional source of water. However, the deterioration of public water infrastructure has its roots in decades of armed conflict and international sanctions. Tap water has been undrinkable since the 1990s, forcing most households to rely on private water vendors. Water infrastructure upgrading was a priority for state rebuilding after 2003 but receded under the sectarian civil war. Governmental and donor plans for mega infrastructure water projects have stalled in the face of systemic corruption and racketeering. Compact water treatment units (CWTUs) are the dominant purification technology, supplying 83 percent of treatment capacity across Basra Governorate and 92% in Basra city. The efficiency of CWTUs supplying Basra city is reduced by irregular flows from the Bada‘a Canal to the key conduit of the R-Zero water treatment plant. These flows are impacted by upstream dam construction, climatic variability and illegal water tapping. The operational capacity of CWTUs is also limited by underinvestment in their maintenance, often reducing their working life to 10–15 years. There is a pressing policy need to diversify water sources for Basra and improve the efficiencies of treatment technologies and distribution networks.



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