Iraq’s Summer Irrigation Water Supply Threatened

By John Schnittker, Chief Economist at Schnittker Associates, and former Ministry Advisor at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The headwater areas of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that stretch across most of eastern Turkey have been exceptionally dry this fall and winter.

Precipitation over eastern Turkey during the September 2013 – February 2014 period has been less than 50% of the long term average.

With 90% of the annual flow of the Euphrates and 50% of the flow of the Tigris originating in Turkey there exist potential for serious shortfalls to summer irrigation supplies across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.

Hydroelectric generation will also be directly affected by any shortfall in winter precipitation.

News reports of the completion of the Iilisu Dam project on the Tigris River in south eastern Turkey later this year also raises prospects for reduced water supplies as the reservoir begins the 3 year process of filling up.

The central and southern areas of Iraq have experienced above normal precipitation during the September 2013 – February 10, 2014 period. The area receiving above normal precipitation coincides with crop areas within Iraq that are dependent upon irrigation; this will have aided early growth and development and marginally reduce irrigation requirements.

Northern areas of Iraq have experienced generally much below normal precipitation during the September 2013 – February 10, 2014 period. The rain dependent areas of Ninewa, and much of the IKR (Kurdistan) appear to have experienced the largest precipitation deficits. Currently wheat prospects across Northern Iraq and the IKR have not been seriously diminished.

However warmer spring weather and a wheat crop emerging from winter dormancy will soon exhaust soil moisture supplies. Without above average precipitation during March into early April dryland wheat production could see as much as a 50% drop from 2013 production levels.

Currently crop prospects across northeastern Syria appear to be the most seriously affected. This is likely a result of the ongoing conflict as well as reduced winter precipitation. Long range weather forecast suggests better chances for rains beginning in early March. Inshallah!

4 Responses to Iraq’s Summer Irrigation Water Supply Threatened

  1. Anna Bachmann February 27, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    The author should mention also the issue of the restoration of the Southern Mesopotamian Marshlands, which are equally threatened. The drought in 2008/2009 caused a lot of hardship for the people of the marshes.