In Iraq, A Millennial Drought

Iraq needs Israel but refuses to normalize relations.

In Iraq, there’s a millennial drought, the kind of thing that scientists say comes along every thousand years. Lake Sawa, the largest lake in Iraq, has “dried up completely for the first time in thousands of years,” the rivers have shriveled into brooks, the supply of groundwater in many of the aquifers has been exhausted, and instead of rain, the farmers have to contend with dust storms. The misery is palpable, and hydrologists say it will only get worse. A report on this catastrophe is here: “Iraq faces acute water shortage,” by Aron Rosenthal, The Media Line, June 17, 2022:

Environmental experts have warned that the drying up of Lake Sawa in southern Iraq is a sign of more to come, with climate change and a lack of cooperation defining water distribution in the Middle East.

In April, the lake, which changes level seasonally and is the only one in Iraq to draw its water from underground aquifers, dried up completely for the first time in thousands of years.

For the inhabitants of nearby Samawa, the environmental concerns were trumped by the existential threat of losing access to the lake, which provides the only reachable water source in the region. Droughts resulting from climate change are thought to be partially responsible for the drying up of the lake.

Some analysts say that human intervention in the water supply is more culpable. Jassim Al-Asadi, managing director of the Chibaish office of Nature Iraq, told The Media Line that well-digging and industrial exploitation contributed to exhausting the supply of groundwater.

According to Al-Asadi, farmers have dug 5,000 wells within 6 kilometers of the Sawa Lake perimeter, exhausting the groundwater in the Dammam aquifer, upon which the lake depends.

Moreover, the groundwater in the Dammam aquifer is exploited for salt production and for industrial purposes such as cement plants.

Salman Khairalla, executive director of the Humat Dijlah Association, an Iraqi nongovernmental organization that seeks to protect the natural heritage of the Tigris River, told The Media Line that the onus of the lack of water is on unfair water distribution in the region.

“The causes of drought are manifold. Some of them may be related to climate change, but the largest part is related to the unfair use of water in the region,” he said.

Al-Asadi told The Media Line that it is theoretically possible to reverse the damage so far inflicted upon the lake if strict measures are implemented in the immediate future.

“Certainly, the damage can be repaired by preventing trespassing for digging wells, enacting legislation to rationalize the use of groundwater, and digging experimental wells within the vicinity of the lake,” he said.

A terrible picture. Wouldn’t you think, in this desperate situation, which is only going to get much, much worse, that the government of Iraq would want to call on the one country that has led the world in husbanding its water supply, including waste water management, recycling, desalination, and drip irrigation? Wouldn’t you want to profit from that country’s inventiveness in coming up. with a machine, the Watergen, that produces clean water from the ambient air?

Of course you would, and Israel, the country in question, stands ready to help anyone who asks for it. It has supplied that machine, for example, to dozens of countries around the world, including the Emirates, and even to the Palestinians.

But Iraq, the country that, possibly more than any other, could benefit from Israel’s expertise in water management and production, won’t be contacting the Israelis any time soon. In late May, the Iraqi Parliament voted unanimously on the proposal to “prohibit normalization and the establishment of relations with the Zionist entity (Israel).” The law included severe penalties, up to death or life imprisonment, for those dealing with Israel. According to the version published by the official Iraqi News Agency, the aim of the law is to “prevent the establishment of diplomatic, political, military, economic, and cultural or any other form of relationship with the occupying Zionist entity.” Just when parched Baghdad ought to have had one of those Better-Call-Saul moments, the Iraqis decided instead to make it a capital crime to have any dealings with Israel. What we were taught as children made no sense, is exactly what Iraq has done: it’s cut off its nose to spite its face.


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