Thursday, 22 May 2008, 06:35 GMT
Experts say Kurdistan's water crisis inevitable

Darbandikhan dam on Sirwan River in south of Suleimaniya. PRESS PHOTO

By Khidhr Domle
The Kurdish Globe

As neighboring dams go up, Kurdistan's water level goes down.

The lack of clean drinking water and the destructive policies of neighboring countries will ultimately lead to a major loss in agricultural lands and a drought in Kurdistan Region.

Experts say the water crisis in Kurdistan Region is imminent in spite of too-late efforts to build several dams in the region.

Aras Gharib Mustafa, senior engineer at the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) Ministry of Water Resources and Dams, told The Kurdish Globe that the Gramyan area near the Iranian border is most affected by the drought, followed by the area west of Merga Sor district, and the outskirts of Erbil city.

Mustafa insists that now is the time to discuss and study the causes of drought and the diseases that can occur, such as cholera.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) reported that around 400 patients were admitted with diarrhea and vomiting in April at Sulaimaniya General Hospital, a big leap from the 260 cases in March.

Cholera is a potentially deadly water-borne illness that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

An outbreak in the region last year led to 2,000 infections and 24 deaths. Hardest hit was the northern city of Sulaimaniya, where 14 people died.

Health officials said a lack of clean drinking water and rising temperatures in the region could spark a similar epidemic this year. The former coupled with poor sanitation was to blame for last year's outbreak, which began in the province of Kirkuk and spread throughout Iraqi Kurdistan as well as Baghdad.

"People have a great deal of difficulty getting hold of clean drinking water in Sulaimaniya," said Sherko Abdullah, manager of the Sulaimaniya health department.

Abdullah noted that areas on the outskirts of the city often rely on wells in which cholera can fester, particularly in the warm climate.

Mustafa said the Ministry of Water Resources has taken several steps to solve the water crisis, including plans to build 102 small dams in the region, some of which are already under construction. The ministry has begun digging artesian water wells and warning farmers not to waste river water.

Turkey is building a number of huge dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which could lead to a significant loss of water to the agriculture sector in the region. Experts predict that Kurdistan will lose 40% of its agricultural lands, or about 700,000 hectares, and ultimately face a terrible water crisis.

Ramadan Hamza, a researcher at Duhok University in the geopolitics of water and dams, confirmed that neighboring countries' water policies of building dams on rivers that go through Kurdistan region are going to have a terrible effect here.

Iran is currently building a dam on the Alwand River that goes through Khanaqin district in Kurdistan Region. Khanaqin has already faced major losses in agriculture this month. Meanwhile, water levels in the Dukan, Derbandikhan, and Duhok dams decline daily.