Alwaght- Water crisis is regarded as the biggest global challenge of the human life in the future, and West Asian countries are suffering more due to being located in a dry region. Though inadequate precipitation rates are the natural factor of water scarcity, mismanagement of water resources is compounding this disaster, and that is why countries seek ways to beat this challenge.
To this end, Iraq held the 3rd International water conference on Saturday and Sunday. Iraqi foreign ministry said that the conference was held with support from Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and with slogans “water scarcity, Mesopotamian Marshes, Shatt al-Arab environment, and responsibility of all.”
The Iraqi ministry of water resources said that the ministers of water resources of many Arab countries and relevant international organizations and foreign ambassadors, ministers and governors, members of the agricultural and water resources commissions, and domestic and foreign scientific and academic figures have been invited to this conference. Ali Akbar Mehrabian, Iran’s minister of energy, represented Iran at the conference.
According to Iraqi officials, the conference was aimed at drawing up a water policy appropriate to the challenge of water scarcity and provide water security in communities and create alternative solutions to reduce the harmful effects of environmental changes and increase cooperation and coordination at the regional and global levels in the field of water resources management and information and experience exchange.
In his address to the conference, PM al-Sudani said that Iraq’s water challenges are a legacy of the former regime, and “mismanagement continued until we reached this stage.” Saying that his government prioritizes the water case and has designed many policies in this regard, al-Sudani added that Baghdad should settle these challenges with the countries of origin of water. He further said that the country has moved towards the experience of advanced countries in the use of water and intends to desalinate water. He also said that the drop in the water of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers requires immediate international intervention.
Water challenge in Iraq
Like other West Asian countries, Iraq is suffering from water scarcity crisis and a gloomy future awaits the country from this perspective. According to a UN report, Iraq is one of the top five most vulnerable countries to climate change and water scarcity threatens crops production and even inhabitation. Two months ago, Khaled Shamal, the spokesman of the Iraqi ministry of water resources, announced that the country is currently suffering from a severe shortage of water reserves. According to this Iraqi official, more than 60 percent of the country’s water is supplied from origins from Turkey, a country that has aggravated the water crisis by closing the Tigris and Euphrates water flow to Iraq. Therefore, if Turkey’s policies continue, Iraq will face long-term droughts in the coming years and needs international cooperation to solve some of its problems. Recently, a member of the Iraqi parliament claimed that Turkey has set conditions for Baghdad for releasing water to Iraq. Turkey, which is seeking a foothold in Iraq, seems to have taken Iraqis’ water share hostage in line with its political goals.
The significance of water even overshadowed Iraqi president’s visit to Iran last month. In a joint press conference with Iranian counterpart Sayyed Ibrahim Raisi, Abdul Latif Rashid called for consideration of his country's water share from common rivers. Currently, about 7 percent of Iraq’s water originates from Iran and in recent years, Iraqi officials have had grievances about their water share.
This issue motivated agreements between Iran and Iraq in the visit of Iranian energy minister to Baghdad. Describing the negotiations in the conference as “positive”, Mehrabian maintained that the agreements included reactivation of the Common Water Committee within the frameworks after being inactive for some time.
Mehrabian emphasized that during the three rounds of negotiations with the minister of water resources of Iraq, effective discussions were held in a very positive environment and in the technical, legal and management fields to enhance people’s benefits from water resources. He further said that a good outcome is expected from these negotiations and interactions. The minister of water resources of Iraq, on the other side, pointed out that Iran-Iraq water cooperation has entered the implementation phase, adding: “I have had constructive meetings with the minister of energy of Iran in the past and I hope that these constructive discussions continue.”
According to the experts, among the joint projects Iran and Iraq can cooperate in is the adoption of common mechanisms to prevent advancement of water salinity in Arvand River, the continuation of which is Shatt al-Arab. Iraqi water resources minister stressed that joint committees need to be formed and joint projects be examined.
Iran-Iraq power cooperation
Iraq’s water scarcity is itself aggravating a challenge to produce electricity. Iraq has been working in recent years with Iran to beat this challenge. Having in mind that about 63 percent of Iraq’s power production capacity is fed with gas, Iran, as one of the largest holders of stable gas reserves in the Iraq’s neighborhood, has rushed to help its neighbor.
Currently 40 percent of Iraq’s power is supplied by Iran, which also exports 37-38 million cubic meters of gas to feed Iraqi power plans. Between 1,200 and 1,500 megawatts of electricity is supplied to Iraq daily from Iran. According to Iranian officials, Iran exports gas to Iraq worth of at least $10 million per day, which amounts to $3.5 to $4 billion per year. Also, the value of Iran’s electricity exports to Iraq is $600 to $700 million per year. Currently, Iranian companies are operating in Iraq in all fields, including supplying and setting up power plants. Despite providing such an amount of gas and electricity to Iraq, this country is still facing power shortage.
Due to the American pressure on the Iraqi government to cut its energy dependence on Iran, Baghdad government has turned to the policy of diversification of its power supply sources. As a result of these pressures, in January 2022, Iraq and Saudi Arabia signed an MoU to connect the power grids of the two countries. The first phase of the project was supposed to be with an annual capacity of 1,000 megawatt hours starting from 2023 or 2024. Also in September 2020, Iraq had reached an agreement with Jordan to connect their power grids, and Jordan agreed to provide Iraq with 1,000 megawatt hours per year starting from December 2022. UAE and Qatar were among the countries that signed an agreement with Iraq to provide power to this country, but despite these efforts, the Arab states have not taken any serious action to assuage Iraq’s suffering.
According to estimates, the contract to import gas from Qatar to meet winter-time shortage and also the project to connect to Saudi Arabia’s power grid will take 38 months and at a way higher costs than providing the power needs from Iran. Therefore, Iran will remain as a supplier of power needed by Iraq for a long time, and Iraqi officials have expressed their desire to increase cooperation in this field, because Iran’s power is more economical for Iraq.
According to statistics, Iraq’s need for power in 2021 was between 22,000 to 28,000 megawatts, but the country has had available only 16,000 to 17,000 megawatts of this amount, something making it suffer from power outages in summer.
According to a report published by International Energy Agency, Iraq’s power demand will double in 2030, which means the gap between demand and supply will widen, unless the government resolutely takes measures to address this challenge. The minister of power of Iraq has predicted that this year the country needs 35,000 megawatts of electricity per day. Therefore, Iran remains the top choice for Iraqis in supplying power, and agreements have been made in this regard. According to the agreements signed between Iraq and Iran in July last year, Iranian tech enterprises are planned to construct power plants in this country with a capacity of 3,642 megawatts with the investment of the Iraqi side. So far, Iranian technology enterprises have opened 3 162-megawatt gas-powered units and 8 183-megawatt combined cycle class E units with the investment of the Iraqi side under 4 power plants. The total capacity of these power plant units is 1,950 megawatts, which assists the Iraqi power grid throughout the year.
According to warnings by international organizations, the future conflicts will be not on oil and gas but water and the West Asian countries will be involved the most in this brewing crisis. Settlement of this crisis individually is impossible, and the environmental challenges now have a global nature and take help of all countries to settle.