Iran's inter-basin transfer to cause social, environmental destruction in Iraq: Expert

Iran's activities in transboundary waters, poor water management directly affect Iraq's water issue, evolving into crisis, says Arife Delibas.

Iran's inter-basin transfer to cause social, environmental destruction in Iraq: Expert

Iran's construction of dams along with its inter-basin water transfer projects will cause social and environmental destruction in Iraq, according to an expert.

Arife Delibas, a researcher with the Ankara-based Center for Iranian Studies (IRAM), said Iran's activities in transboundary waters and poor water management directly affect Iraq's water resources, resulting in shortage, and evolving into a crisis.

"There is no ground for reconciliation between Iran and Iraq in the context of the water crisis," Delibas told Anadolu Agency.

As water crisis-related protests were staged last month in Iran’s Isfahan province, Iraq blamed Tehran for changing the course of rivers as well as building dams in contravention to international law.

Delibas said that according to Iraqi officials, the increase in the salinity and fish kills in the Shatt al-Arab River was caused by Iran's water transfer projects.

Formed by the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the Shatt al-Arab River was one of the reasons for the Iran-Iraq War, which began on Sept. 22, 1980.

"Iraq is now calling for a reconsideration of the 1975 Algiers Agreement, arguing that Iran has changed water flow direction (in the Shatt al-Arab River)," she said.

The Algiers Agreement was signed in 1975 to settle border disputes, including over the Shatt al-Arab River, which partly flows along the Iran–Iraq border.

Giving an example of Iran’s acts, which are regarded by Iraq as a contravention of international law, Delibas said "Iran reduced the river flow by 75% with the Daryan and Garan dams it has built on the Diyala River."

Water resources policies of Iran, Iraq

Regarding Iran and Iraq’s water resources management, Delibas said both countries are carrying out "bad and inadequate" policies on water resources.

She said their policies are not compatible to counter the negative effects of climate change, making it difficult for them to deal with the climate crisis.

She added that Iran’s excessive use of groundwater to tackle drought and meet its economic needs causes soil subsidence and increases the salinity of the water, which makes it unsuitable for agriculture.

"In short, prioritizing short-term economic goals causes environmental destruction, which will increase gradually with climate change," she added.

Delibas noted that Iran has made "various political and financial capital investments to combat water scarcity, particularly in the last decade."

On Iran investing in various projects for desalination in the Persian Gulf to meet its water needs, she said that in her opinion, they will not serve as a long-term solution and could have a negative impact on the environment by increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, Iran tends to cooperate with neighboring countries, Delibas said, giving negotiations with Tajikistan on cooperation on water and water imports as an example.

On the other hand, she said inadequate infrastructure and mismanagement of resources are some reasons for Iraq's water crisis.

With the climate crisis deepening the water scarcity Iraq is currently facing, she said the Iraqi government declared water a matter of national security.

Like Iran, Iraq has resorted to cooperation on the matter with neighboring countries like Turkey, she said.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two countries that was signed in 2014 was approved by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in September 2021.

Within the framework of the MoU, Iraq, and Turkey will cooperate based on mutual benefit and share experience, technology and know-how.

Climate migration

Touching on the recently emerging concept of climate migration, Delibas said "climate migration" or "environmental migrants" will begin to be heard of more often with the increasingly negative effects of climate change.

She further claimed that extreme weather-related events which "will affect access to water in Iran" are expected to increase in the Middle East in the coming decades, adding, "as a threat multiplier, climate change will negatively affect access to clean drinking water, agricultural production and livestock."

As a result, the internal displacement from rural to urban areas in Iran and Iraq that is on the rise due to water scarcity and drought will become a mass migration wave out of the country, she added.

Stressing the risks posed by climate migration for destination and transit countries, Delibas said those countries "should strengthen their existing protection frameworks against climate migration and provide shelter, health care and education to immigrants."

Regarding the potential climate migration exposure of Turkey, she said: "It may increase the pressure on Turkey in terms of water and food security, considering the increasing population in the country that is currently experiencing water stress."

Hüseyin Demir