Iraq is on track to meet only 15% of its water demands by 2035 if current trends persist, according to a top United Nations official. Water scarcity has emerged as the country’s most pressing environmental concern, exacerbated by the contamination of 90% of Iraq’s rivers, leaving seven million people without access to clean water.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, addressed the Security Council, highlighting the severity of the situation. She stressed that water scarcity poses a significant threat to Iraq’s stability, stating that if water becomes a competition, everyone loses. Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert emphasized the need for bold domestic measures and close regional cooperation to address this critical issue effectively.
The UN official described water as Iraq’s most critical climate emergency, underscoring that by 2035, the country is projected to meet a mere 15% of its water needs. She urged the Iraqi government to intensify diplomatic efforts with neighboring countries to address water sharing, border security, trade, and climate issues. Upholding principles such as sovereignty, territorial integrity, and good neighborliness is essential for regional stability, she added.
Iraq has been categorized by the UN as one of the countries most affected by climate change, including drought. A report jointly released by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Norwegian Red Cross emphasized the urgent need for greater assistance in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The report highlighted how climate change and armed conflict have jointly contributed to a dire humanitarian situation in the region.
According to the report, as of January 2022, only 19 single-country projects in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen had been approved by dozens of UN, World Bank, and other multilateral funds. Disbursements to date amounted to a mere $20.6 million, less than 0.5% of global expenditure on climate projects. The head of the Norwegian Red Cross, Anne Bergh, called for policymakers to directly address the region’s climate challenges, expressing concern that current climate finance distributions largely exclude the most fragile and unstable areas.
Iraq’s Deputy UN Ambassador, Sarhad Fattah, highlighted Baghdad’s commitment to water diplomacy in securing the legitimate right of Iraqis to their water share. In March, Iraq became the first Middle Eastern country to join the UN Water Convention, which aims to ensure the sustainable use of water resources that flow across international borders. Efforts such as these are crucial for Iraq to address its water scarcity crisis and mitigate the potential consequences of this looming threat.