Iraq's mighty Tigris River drying up
Experts warn that nearly one third of the irrigated land in Iraq will have no water by 2050
It was the river that is said to have watered the biblical Garden of Eden and helped give birth to civilization itself, but today the Tigris is dying.
Human activity and climate change have choked its once mighty flow through Iraq, where — with its twin river the Euphrates — it made Mesopotamia a cradle of civilization thousands of years ago.
Battered by one natural disaster after another, Iraq is one of the five countries most exposed to climate change, according to the UN.
From April on, temperatures exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit and intense sandstorms often turn the sky orange, covering the country in a film of dust. Hellish summers see the mercury top a blistering 122 degrees Fahrenheit — near the limit of human endurance — with frequent power cuts shutting down air-conditioning for millions.
The Tigris, the lifeline connecting the storied cities of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, has been choked by dams and falling rainfall. The river’s 900-mile journey through Iraq begins in the mountains of autonomous Kurdistan, near the borders of Turkey and Syria, where local people raise sheep and grow potatoes.
"Our life depends on the Tigris," said farmer Pibo Hassan Dolmassa, 41, wearing a dusty coat, in the town of Faysh Khabur. "All our work, our agriculture, depends on it.”
"Before, the water was pouring in torrents," he said, but over the last two or three years "there is less water every day.'
Iraq's government and Kurdish farmers accuse Turkey, where the Tigris has its source, of withholding water in its dams, dramatically reducing the flow into Iraq. According to Iraqi official statistics, the level of the Tigris entering Iraq has dropped to just 35 percent of its average over the past century.
Baghdad regularly asks Ankara to release more water. But Turkey's ambassador to Iraq, Ali Riza Guney, urged Iraq to "use the available water more efficiently", tweeting in July that "water is largely wasted in Iraq.”
According to the World Bank’s report, nearly one third of the irrigated land in Iraq will have no water by 2050. The International Organization for Migration said last month that "climate factors" had displaced more than 3,300 families in Iraq's central and southern areas in the first three months of this year.