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Plunge in water resources looms in Iraq: World Bank

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People sit near a bridge on the shores of Iraq's Shatt al-Arab waterway where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers converge. AFP

Plunge in water resources looms in Iraq: World Bank

Iraq could suffer a 20 per cent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change, the World Bank said on November 24, warning of repercussions on growth and jobs.

Water is a crucial issue for the oil-rich country of 40 million that is facing an acute energy crisis, compounded by increasingly severe droughts and low rainfall.

“Without action, water constraints will lead to large losses across multiple sectors of the economy and come to affect more and more vulnerable people,” the World Bank’s Saroj Kumar Jha said in a statement accompanying a new report.

“By 2050, a temperature increase of one degree Celsius, and a precipitation decrease of 10 per cent would cause a 20 per cent reduction of available freshwater” in Iraq, the report said.

“Under these circumstances, nearly one-third of the irrigated land in Iraq will have no water by the year 2050.”

Economic modelling showed that Iraq’s real gross domestic product (GDP) “could drop by up to four per cent, or $6.6 billion compared to 2016 levels”, according to the report.

Demand for unskilled labour in the agricultural sector could fall by 11.8 per cent, and by 5.4 per cent for non-agricultural activities.

Water scarcity “is linked to small-scale forced displacement in Iraq”, the World Bank warned, particularly in the country’s south.

In 2014, Iraq prepared a 20-year, $180-billion plan to manage its water crisis.

But it was stillborn as the Islamic State group seized a third of the country the same year and money was diverted to fight the jihadists.

In 2018, financing for the water ministry accounted for less than 0.2 per cent of the country’s overall budget, with just $15 million.

“The current state of infrastructure has led to salinity affecting approximately 60 per cent of the cultivated land and a 30-60 per cent reduction in yield,” the report said.

On a positive note, the World Bank said Iraq’s economic outlook had improved “on the back of the recovery of global oil markets”, adding that its GDP was projected to grow from 2.6 per cent this year to more than six per cent in 2022-2023.

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