26 October 2022

Climate change and drought threaten crops and economy in Iraq


Iraqi farming communities experience a new decline in harvests due to drought, says Norwegian Refugee Council. The worsening climate emergency and water crisis is an economic disaster for the affected regions

by Matteo Cavallito


Merciless weather continues to affect Iraq by fostering a drought that threatens the country’s agricultural yields. a notorius problem for local communities, who are forced to experience a drop in grain, fruit and vegetable harvests for the second year in a row with obvious economic consequences. The alarm comes from a report released by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) ahead of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in Egypt next month.

“We are seeing the continued damage from Iraq’s climate and water crisis,” said NRC’s Iraq Country Director James Munn. “People are witnessing their fertile land and crops vanish year after year. The lands that have fed a nation are drying up fast.”

The survey

In August, the Norwegian agency surveyed 1,341 households in the governorates of Anbar, Basra, Dohuk, Kirkuk and Ninewa to assess the impact of the drought and climate crisis on the last crop season. The survey was supplemented with eight key informant interviews and the analysis of four case studies.

“Of those that have rainfed crops, 88 percent stated that rainfall was not sufficient this season for their crops to thrive,” the Norwegian Council explained.

To cope with the crisis, the research further notes, 28 percent of households in all governorates have begun purchasing drinking water, thus incurring additional expense. Twenty-five percent changed their source of supply, and 24 percent had to reduce the amount of water they used.

A long-term drought

The study conducted by the NRC documented the long-term impact of the crisis. In the places most affected by the phenomenon, the survey reported, “one in three families in drought hotspots had to reduce the area of land that they plant, resulting in significant loss of crops and incomes.” Four out of 10 respondents also repoted harvesting “less wheat, barley, fruit, and vegetables this year than they did last year..”

Iraq’s water crisis has worsened in recent times due to record low rainfall and rising temperatures. Reduced river flow from neighboring countries and lack of investment and management at the national level have done the rest.

Drought as a consequence of climate change is evident in many regions in the World. In recent weeks, a study by the World Weather Attribution (WWA), a group of scientists formed to study the incidence of extreme events, highlighted how the climate crisis had made the record drought that hit Europe this summer at least 20 times more likely.

The economic implications

The economic consequences are equally troubling. “A worsening climate and water crisis spells disaster for regions that have long relied on agriculture as the principal source of income and livelihoods,” the NRC further explains. More than a third of respondents (38 percent) reported increased social tensions over competition for resources and jobs. Under current conditions, the researchers say, many members of Iraq’s farming communities will be forced to leave their land and move to urban areas.

The Norwegian agency has appealed to the international community to provide more funding to Iraq with the goal of strengthening the country’s climate resilience. It also becomes necessary, NRC continues, “to increase Iraq’s access to climate resilience funding and ramp up diplomatic efforts to ensure fair regional transboundary water flows to the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.” As well as increased investment in water management and infrastructure development by the government.