Multimillion dollar water project for IraqUNESCO is launching a 15-month project this month which will lay the groundwork for a National Water Resources Master Plan for Iraq. The project benefits from US$3.3 million in funding and comes in response to an urgent request from the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources.
One of the highest priorities of the new Iraqi government is to rehabilitate the water planning sector. The government considers water security a prerequisite for food and health security, environmental sustainability and socio-economic reconstruction and development. The political situation has, however, deprived the country of the qualified personnel and technical and institutional capacities to attain this objective.
Consequently, one component of the UNESCO project provides for technical training in integrated water resources management. The courses will be run from Amman (Jordan) and Cairo (Egypt), in co-operation with the UNESCO Chair on Wadi Hydrology, University of Jordan and Groundwater Research Institute in Cairo. A second component entails training mid-level and senior officials and experts to formulate, implement and monitor water projects. The project also makes provisions for rehabilitating a training and research centre in the Ministry of Water Resources, in collaboration with higher educational institutions in Iraq. Pilot and research projects are also to be launched to enable Iraqi water specialists to employ their newfound skills in assessing the country's water problems. The Iraqi specialists will then be using their findings to design follow-up projects.
Iraq stretches over 437 072 km2, of which 4910 km2 is made up of water bodies. Compared to Jordan, Israel or the Gulf States, Iraq has abundant water resources. According to the United Nations' World Water Development Report (2003), the total renewable water resources available per capita per year amounts to 3287 m3. Good-quality subterranean water has been found in the foothills of the mountains in the northeast of Iraq and along the right bank of the Euphrates.
Water resources are not spread evenly across the country. Average annual rainfall is estimated at 154 mm but ranges from less than 100 mm in the south to 1 200 mm in the northeast. There is only one river basin, Shatt Al-Arab, formed by the confluence downstream of the Euphrates and the Tigris into the Persian Gulf. As much as 90% of the lakes and marshlands in the lower Tigris-Euphrates has been lost over the past three decades.
The Global Environment Outlook reported in 2000 that groundwater was rapidly deteriorating in Iraq because the water volumes withdrawn far exceeded natural recharge rates. The traditional Afalaj systems, which tap into aquifers using gravity-fed underground conduits, have greatly suffered as a result.
In terms of food and health, Iraq is 'slipping back'. Between 1990 and 1992, 1.2 million Iraqis were suffering from undernourishment. By 1999, this figure had doubled. Iraq will have a growing population to feed in coming years; some 41% of Iraq's population of 24 million is less than 14 years old and the population is growing at an annual rate of 2.86.
Iraq has a long history of irrigated agriculture that dates back to the Great Mesopotamian civilization of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Today, about 11.48 million ha of land is cultivable. However, the FAO estimates that only 5.5 million ha was under cultivation in 1998, partly due to soil salinity and fallow practices. As much as 64% of the cultivated land was irrigated in 1998. Although much of the population is currently dependent on food rations, Iraq's agricultural sector has great potential for supporting economic growth and job creation.
The joint WHO-UNICEF Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report found that safe water supplies reached 96% of urban areas and 48% of rural areas in 1995 and that 93% of the urban and 31% of the rural populations enjoyed access to sanitation. Yet the International Red Cross/Crescent Society and Christian Relief Fund have noted since that these facilities were badly damaged in the 2003 war, a situation which could trigger widespread misery.
The second goal of the UNESCO project is to stimulate regional dialogue on the shared management of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers between Iraq and the other riparian states, Turkey, Syria and Iran. Both rivers originate in Turkey. A Joint Technical Committee on Regional Waters set up in 1980 by Turkey and Iraq to discuss water matters met for the last time in 1992. There have been tensions in the region since Turkey embarked upon a scheme in 1977 to construct 22 dams and 19 hydraulic power plants within its Southeastern Anatolia Project.
UNESCO will be familiarizing Iraqi experts with international norms governing shared water resources and encouraging all four riparian states to exchange water-related information and data on ongoing and planned projects for the shared rivers. Armed with this and a projection of the demand for water of each of the riparian states, the four neighbours should be well-equipped to negotiate a regional framework that ensures the rivers are used equitably.
The dual-purpose UNESCO project falls within the Strategic Plan of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and is funded through the United Nations Development Group Iraq Trust Fund, one of two - together with the World Bank Iraq Trust Fund - which make up the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq. The Facility was set up at the International Donors' Conference for Iraq in Madrid (Spain) in October 2003 to help donors channel funding and co-ordinate support. At the conference, donors pledged US$32 billion over a four-year period.
For details, contact: (in Egypt) Radwan Al-Weshah: firstname.lastname@example.org; and (in Jordan): email@example.com