Outlook and Conclusion
This chapter provides an outlook for the issues surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq.
Water governance at national and local levels
The Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership argues that internal dynamics should receive more attention when it comes to water issues in Iraq. The organization argues that these dynamics are mostly ignored in media, political and scholarly reports about the situation. They suggest three ‘building blocks to stability’: 1) identifying and understanding interprovincial water challenges, 2) raising awareness and encouraging dialogue, and 3) supporting activities to prevent and/or mitigate conflict risk.
WPS suggests utilizing early warning tools, big data and remote sensing to identify hot spots, risks and potential conflicts. Using quantitative data in decision-making could assist Iraq in prioritizing (water) issues. This ties directly into the second building block (raising awareness and encouraging dialogue), as current efforts are often hindered by conflicts of interest from different stakeholders rooted in socio-political, economic or cultural dynamics. Data-driven tools could provide the impartial information that is necessary to move beyond these conflicts. For example, these tools could inform discussions on water resources between the Kurdish Iraqis in the north and Arab Iraqis in the south, which are often clouded by cultural and social issues beyond the water situation.
The third building block (supporting activities to prevent and/or mitigate conflict risk) might be the hardest to achieve in the coming years. It implies supporting non-governmental organizations and civil society with data-driven tools. However, the Iraqi government has prosecuted active members of civil society several times in the past years and cracked down on protests, making this building block particularly challenging.
Transboundary water governance
Diplomatic efforts should continue to emphasize the importance of multilateral treaties to ameliorate the water situation in the Tigris and Euphrates basin. Several forthcoming events provide promising contexts during which such efforts could materialize.
The first is COP 27, which will take place from 7-18 November 2022 in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt. Egypt and Iraq are in similar situations, in the sense of being downstream from a country that withholds large amounts of water in hydropower dams. Egypt will likely take the opportunity to stress the need for a diplomatic resolution with Ethiopia. If such a resolution is achieved, or even if steps are taken in this direction during the conference, this could set a much-needed precedent for the Tigris and Euphrates basin.
A year later, in 2023, the second large opportunity arises at COP 28, which will be held in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Twice in a row, the world’s largest climate conference will be held in an Arab country with a similar climate to Iraq. Vicki Hollub, the chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum, a major American oil company, stated that “[COP28 taking place in Abu Dhabi] will give the oil industry a voice [in the solution to climate change]”. Ideally, the oil industry will present big steps to reduce pollution, which in turn could decrease the negative impact of the oil industry on water quality in Iraq.
Since 2021, the Baghdad Water Conference has been held annually in March. Organized by the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources, the conference aims to overcome issues related to water quality and water supply. In 2022, a Turkish delegation attended the conference headed by Veysel Eroğlu, the presidential special representative for Iraq. Eroğlu was appointed by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2019 to facilitate dialogue towards improved water management in Iraq. Although this conference has not yet produced major breakthroughs, an active dialogue between both countries is a positive development that should be facilitated by international organizations which review the implications of policies of all relevant stakeholders. Examples of such organizations include the World Bank, the World Water Council or a panel of international water envoys.
Iraq faces grand water challenges that are economically, socially and politically complex. Although the above outlook offers several steps towards relieving the most pressing issues, it is uncertain if, when and how such steps could be implemented. Therefore, policies should be supported that ensure sustainable development and institution building so that Iraq may remain in Mesopotamia: the land between two rivers.