New article on climate change mitigation and water harvesting in Iraq


Authors: Lina Eklund and Hossein Hashemi (Lund University, CMES)


The Middle East region is facing major challenges related to climate change, and Iraq is no exception. Despite being a historically water-rich country, Iraq faces demands from multiple directions for this critical resource: population growth, the legacy of multiple wars, transboundary water (mis)management and a changing climate.

An analysis of a commonly used drought index (the Standard Precipitation Evaporation Index (SPEI)) shows a concerning shift towards a drought pattern in Iraq over the past seven decades. Between 1951 and 1990, 20% of the years experienced mild drought with the remaining either normal or wet rainfall years. Between 1991 and 2010, 30% were drought years, but critically during this period, most droughts were moderate or extreme rather than mild. In the latest decade between 2011 and 2020, 60% were drought years, and only 40% were wet or normal years. These figures clearly indicate an increase in the frequency and severity of drought. 

The effects of climate change, decreased rainfall and higher temperatures, combined with the country’s increasing population (expected to increase from 40 to 60 million in the coming 20 years) will exacerbate the situation causing water and food insecurity in the near future. Climate change projections also show that extreme rainfall events will become more likely during the wet periods, which requires immediate actions to mitigate flood risk as well as capturing these short-time freshwater inputs to the region. Indeed, flash floods in Iraq in the past few years have caused deaths, displacement, damages and health issues.

A major conclusion of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability is that the globe is not adapting fast enough. It is well known that agriculture will be negatively affected by climate change, and that drought is one of the most important causes of food insecurity. In recent years, the effects of drought on agriculture globally have become greater, with production losses increasing from 7% to 14% between 1964 and 2007. Irrigation can reduce heat stress for crops and can thus be an opportunity to decrease the vulnerability of agriculture and the people relying on it. Subsequently, in the future the need for water for irrigation is expected to increase substantially.

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