Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Tool for Mapping Climate Change in Iraq

A world in which warming reaches 4°C above preindustrial levels, would be one of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems, and associated services.

Iraq’s man-made disasters, like war, have been in the media for the last decades, however less covered is the current environmental crisis the country is experiencing. The crisis includes rapid expansion of the desertification process, frequent and intense dust storms, drought conditions, a reduction in rainfall across the country and unprecedented heat waves with temperatures rising above 50°C in the last couple of years (2). These severe environmental problems are highly probably due to climate change   as well as to its geographical and hydrological peculiarities, although no specific studies to assess its likelihood have yet been conducted.

This tool is created to inform the general public of Iraq and is meant to illustrate how recent changes in the environment in Iraq coincide with what scientists and a recent report of the IPCC are predicting would be the impacts of climate change.
The following map is part of an effort to map climate change impacts in Iraq. It shows different Iraqi cities and the corresponding climate change challenges. It contains pictures as well as other links to reports and additional information from different sources. 

Note: To see the map, please click on the upper right square to view the map on Full Screen.

1. Impacts on Iraq Water Resources
Iraq relies on more than half it's water originating outside it's own borders: mainly in Turkey, and to a lesser extent Iran and Syria. Flow rates in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have fallen to a third of normal capacity. Iraq

The predictions of the General Circulation Models (GCMs) used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change present a pessimistic picture of the flows in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Precipitation in the highlands of Turkey is predicted to be reduced by 10-60%, which in turn translates into a similar decline in the flow in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. One recent study predicted that the Euphrates river flow will be reduced by 29% to 73% and the entire Fertile Crescent may disappear by the end of the century (3).

In a recent study, scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs.

The negative impact of climate change on Iraq is further magnified by human intervention in the natural cycle. Iraq’s water resources management are challenged by a series of water development projects that include major dams and irrigation schemes on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and their tributaries have altered the hydrological cycle. The huge storage areas behind the Turkish, Iranian and Syrian dams are now absorbing peak flows that occur naturally during spring times. Neighboring countries control releases according to their own needs and requirements.
Deep Dives:
Water in Iraq Factsheet

Water and its management needs to be prioritised by the Government of Iraq since it plays a key role in the sustainable development of the country and its fundamental to eradicating poverty and hunger (MDG1), reducing child mortality (MDG4) ensuring environmental sustainability (MDG7).
A new study using data from a pair of gravity-measuring NASA satellites finds that large parts of the arid Middle East region lost freshwater reserves rapidly during the past decade.
2. Drought
Iraq high dependency on water that comes out of its borders makes it vulnerable to climate change. The amount of water available per person has also dropped by more than half since the late 1970s, and the country’s main sources of surface water—the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers—could dry up entirely by 2040 if current conditions continue. Meanwhile, 39 percent of Iraq’s agricultural land has suffered a reduction in cropped land—which means increasing food insecurity, in a country with a growing population (6).

The area of the Earth’s land surface affected by drought has also likely increased substantially over the last 50 years, somewhat faster than projected by climate models.
The IPCC reports that climatic trends where temperature and precipitation go in the opposite directions have accumulated to produce four consecutive dry years following 2006 in Syria, and Iraq with the 2007–08 drought being particularly devastating. As the vast majority of crops in this country are non-irrigated, the region is highly vulnerable to meteorological drought. In combination with water mismanagement, the 2008 drought rapidly led to water stress with more than 40 percent of the cultivated land affected, strongly reducing wheat and barley production. The repeated droughts resulted in significant losses for the population, affecting in total 1.3 million people (800,000 of whom were severely affected), and contributing to the migration of tens of thousands of families. Clearly, these impacts are also strongly influenced by non-climatic factors, such as governance and demography, which can alter the exposure and level of vulnerability of societies. The report states qualitatively that the largely human-induced shift toward a climate with more frequent droughts in the eastern Mediterranean is already causing societal impacts in this climatic “hotspot.” (1) 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------Deep Dives:
Climate Change Impact on Iraqi Water and Agriculture Sectors, By Dr. Hassan Janabi*
Dr. Hassan Janabi, Iraq Ambassador to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, on his article about - Climate Change Impacts on Iraqi Water and Agriculture Sectors paints a pessimistic picture for the future based upon IPCC predictions. 
The SPEI Global Drought Monitor offers near real-time information about global drought conditions. Compare various time periods between 1955 and 2010 and describe how different regions experience varying drought levels. How can this monitor help determine regional impacts of droughts?

3. Dust Storms
Iraq is one of the most affected countries in the Middle East concerning the occurrences of sand and dust storms. The frequency of the occurrence has increased drastically in the last decade and it is increasing continuously (9). The events of sand and dust storms are either regional or local. In Iraq, the Ministry of Environment recorded 122 dust-storms and 283 dusty days and sources suggest that within the next ten years, Iraq could witness 300 dust-storms per year. These projections underscore the urgent need for a concerted regional effort to address the phenomenon today (8).
Dust storm over Iraq on June 23, 2010. Image credit: NASA.
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Iraq is considered one of the region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change and it faces a unique set of environmental challenges. Rising environmental degradation and increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, especially Sand and Dust Storms (SDS), take an enormous toll on socio-economic life and human development across the region. It has been recognized that climate change and environmental degradation transcend boundaries and that they can’t be addressed effectively through national level interventions alone.
4. Desertification
As much as 31% of Iraq’s surface is desert. Years of inappropriate farming practices and mismanagement of water resources have exacerbated the effects of an already dry climate and contributed to increasing rates of desertification.
The seemingly unstoppable desert expansion is creeping up and taking over the fertile lands in Iraq in an unprecedented speed! It is manifested in a dramatic shrinking of green cover and the losses of millions of trees and tens of thousands of hectares of cultivable land and diminishing agricultural production (4).
An estimate of 39% of the country’s surface has been affected by desertification, with an additional 54% under threat. As a result of declining soil moisture and lack of vegetative cover, recent years have witnessed an increase in the frequency of vast dust and sand storms, often originating in the western parts of Iraq (2).

5. Ecosystems

An assessment of climate change effects on ecosystems and their services found that as greenhouse gas emissions and other stresses continue at or above current rates, the resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction, if increases in global average temperature exceed of 2–3° above preindustrial levels (1).
One of Iraq’s most important ecosystem, and once the largest wetland in southwestern Asia, the marshes are the most important stopover for migratory birds flying from north-central Eurasia to Eastern Africa. They are home of numerous bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile species, many of which are globally threatened. The marshlands support fishery resources, which account for 60% of Iraq’s fish catch and have shown a 50% decline due to decreased water availability. During and after the Iraq-Iran wars in the 1980’s, about 90% of Iraq’s marshes were drained. After the 2003 resources have been made available to restore the marshlands. The restoration of the marshes depends on water availability, which is impacted by climate change and regional geopolitics.
Deep Dives:
The report focuses on the importance of the Marshlands ecosystem services and the social, economic, and cultural benefits they provide to the Iraqi people, and the report shows the need to intensify the work being done for Marshlands revitalization and rehabilitation. However, revitalizing the Marshlands is more than just bringing backwater, people, and biodiversity to the wetlands. The Marshlands’ future depends on how successfully Iraq is able to strike a balance between national development, including the development of the oil industry infrastructure in the Marshlands area, and environmental conservation.

At the dawn of the new millennium, the tragic loss of the Mesopotamian marshlands stands out as one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters. Dams and drainage schemes have transformed one of the finest wetlands, the fabled Eden of the Fertile Crescent that has inspired humanity for millennia, into salt- encrusted desert. The ecological life-support system of a distinct indigenous people dwelling in a rare water-world of dense reed beds and teeming wildlife has collapsed

6. Floods

It is well established that climate change will bring about substantial changes in precipitation patterns, as well as in surface temperature and other quantities that govern evapotranspiration. More intense rain events were reported all over Iraq in 2013. Iraq reported floods in the south of Iraq, in May 2013, and Baghdad in November and December 2013.
Satellite Map of Iraq Floods 2013. Image: Floodlist.com
Deep Dives: 

After the heavy rain that hit Baghdad and other provinces last February revealed the inability of Iraqi infrastructure to contain any emergency, heavier rain in southern Iraqi cities over the last six days has resulted in large human and material losses. The provinces of Dhi Qar, Maysan and Wasit, besides some areas of the capital, witnessed heavy rain during the past few days that flooded streets and destroyed crops, while some houses collapsed.

7. Unprecedented Heat Waves
According to the most recent IPCC report, human-induced climate change since the 1960s has increased the frequency and intensity of heat waves and thus also likely exacerbated their societal impacts. In regions such as the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Tibetan plateau, almost all summer months are likely to be warmer than the most extreme heat waves presently experienced.
The last decade has seen an exceptional number of extreme heat waves around the world with consequential severe impacts. Iraq has experienced an unprecedented heat wave with temperatures rising above 50°C just last summer. Iraq had its hottest day in history on June 14, 2010, when the mercury hit 52.0°C (125.6°F) in Basra. Iraq's previous record was 51.7°C (125.1°F) set August 8, 1937, in Ash Shu'aybah (7).
Deep Dives:
Even Iraqi government ministries can't keep air conditioning on amid a summer electricity crisis. With the start of Ramadan today, observant Muslims are facing 14 hours without water.
8. Salinity and Water Crisis in Basra
The water quality issues are mostly salinization of the water coming from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that form the Shatt Al Arab. This salinization is due mainly to decreased flow of the two rivers, causing the salty water from the gulf to enter into the river. The reasons are upstream damming and re-routing of the Tigris and Euphrates and its tributaries that feed into the rivers and push the salty water into the sea. Over the last 20 years, dam projects in Iran and Turkey have reduced the water of the Euphrates and the Tigris significantly; some studies reveal reductions of over 75% on the Euphrates. Iran has also dammed the Karun river that feeds directly and contributes around two thirds of the Shatt al Arab. This has caused tremendous damage to the water supply, agriculture and herding.
Deep Dives:
The water quality issues are mostly salinization of the water coming from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that form the Shatt Al Arab. This salinization is due mainly to decreased flow of the two rivers, causing the salty water from the gulf to enter into the river. The reasons are upstream damming and re-routing of the Tigris and Euphrates and its tributaries that feed into the rivers and push the salty water into the sea.
Three months ago several municipal councils in the Faw villages (90 km from the centre of Basra’s province) sent the first danger signals, announcing an increase in the water salinity level of rivers connected to the Shatt al-Arab. They warned that the high salt level was harming agriculture and killing livestock.
Moving Beyond Climate Change
The IPCC report tells us that warming of 4°C can still be avoided: numerous studies show that there are technically and economically feasible emissions pathways to hold warming likely below 2°C. Thus the level of impacts that countries like Iraq and the rest of the world experience will be a result of government, private sector, and civil society decisions and choices, including, unfortunately, inaction.
A recent five-year agreement between the Iraqi government and the UN environment aims to help the country overcome many of the environmental challenges it is facing. The program includes development of environmental legislation and regulation, biodiversity conservation, the green economy, cleaner production, resources efficiency, combating dust storms and climate change reporting, mitigation and adaptation. Moreover, a reforestation project, called the National Green Belt is part of the steps that the Iraqi government has taken in its environmental recovery efforts. The project seeks to plant More than 200 million trees on an area of at least 3000 sq.km, irrigated by ground water through closed irrigation systems operated by solar power.

In the area of water resources, Iraq needs to develop and implement a national water strategy. At the international level, ensuring that Iraq has adequate water supplies requires that all riparian countries (Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq) work together to establish a transboundary water agreement that includes a regime for the management of the Tigris basin and to clarify substantive obligations between the countries.

With its financial resources, Iraq has the capacity to invest in its future and to reduce the negative impact of global warming on its economy.
Works Cited
1.     World Bank Group. 2012 “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided" http://climatechange.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/Turn_Down_the_heat_Why_a_4_degree_centrigrade_warmer_world_must_be_avoided.pdf
2.     IAU 2012, Climate Change in Iraq Factsheet
3.     Iraqi Economist Network, Dr. H. Janabi, Climate Change Impact on Iraqi Water and Agriculture Sectors.
4.     Iraqi Economist Network, Dr. H. Janabi, Combatting the Expanding Desert: National Green Belt Project in Iraq, Iraqi Economist Network, Retrieved February 18, 2014.  http://iraqieconomists.net/en/2013/01/11/combatting-the-expanding-desert-national-green-belt-project-in-iraq/
5.     Thompson Reuters Foundation, Iraq's environment, water supply in severe decline – Report, Retrieved February 17, 2014. http://www.trust.org/item/20140127121610-cdrqu/?source=hptop
6.     Ecowatch, Environmental Degradation From Climate Change and Conflict Plagues Iraq, Retrieved on February 16, 2014. http://ecowatch.com/2014/01/29/environmental-degradation-climate-change-conflict-iraq/
7.     Extreme heat wave sets all-time high temperature records in Africa and Middle East, Retrieved on February 17, 2014. http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/93l-still-disorganized-extreme-heat-wave-hits-the-middle-east-and-afr

8.     Sand and Dust Storms Fact Sheet