Monday, 18 June 2012, 08:06 GMT
Kurdistan Region's underground water levels significantly lowered


A technician working in the Ifraz water plant in Erbil/GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamid

The Kurdish Globe
By Sleman Tashan

Over the past 40 years, the Kurdistan Region has lost 200 meters of its underground water level

According to a new plan by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the Ifraz IV water treatment plan will be implemented in the near future.

The project needs USD 400 million and by completion, 600 water wells, which are currently supplying 35% of Erbil's water, will be closed down.

Although, many phases of Ifraz project have been completed and are now supplying Erbil with water, the project has still not met the entire water demand of the city.

Erbil Water and Sewage Director General Engineer, Sahand Ibrahim, said in an interview with the Kurdish Globe, that they have a three-year project that will completely eradicate water problems in Erbil until the year 2035.

In some parts of the capital, especially in the eastern and southern neighborhoods, the water shortage is felt due to the lowering of the underground water levels and the drying up of some water wells.

There are a number of projects underway to put an end to the issue in Erbil, including the expansion of Ifraz III plant to reach a capacity of 10,000 cubic meters from the current capacity of 6,000 cubic meters. The budget for the project is allocated by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) as a long term loan.

Although, the project was supposed to be implemented by now, due to the amount of detail in the investigation by the Japanese authorities, it took a long time until they made the final decision to fund the project.

Ibrahim says that in the near future, an implementation company will be contracted to start work on the project.

In Duhok there are two large water treatment plants that have almost solved the water issue in the city, while with the expansion of the Dokan I and II plants, which are currently under implementation, Suleimaniya can also bid farewell to its water shortage.

In Erbil, all the previous water projects were in the form of constructing stations and connecting them to the city by pipes. However the new Ifraz IV project consists of constructing two large rings around the 100 meter and 120 meter ring roads according to the city's master plan.

The purpose of these rings is to be able to accommodate the expansion of the city in any direction. It is expected that the budget for this project is allocated within this year's budget, which means that over three year the project can progress and Erbil can then forget about water shortage for 20 years to come.

Currently there are 600 deep water wells that supply drinking water to part of Erbil and around 2,100 more wells are supplying agricultural and industrial projects in the province.

The Greater Zab is the source of the Ifraz water and passes by an area 30 kilometers west of Erbil. The water is treated and then supplied to the city via a pipeline.

According to the draft work plan of the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of the Seventh Cabinet, the demand for drinking water in Kurdistan was 365 million cubic meters in 2011, and the region could supply the whole amount. According to the same draft the target of the ministry is to increase this amount to 438 million cubic meters by 2018, i.e. to supply enough water for 6 million people. However, currently the region mainly depends on underground water for its needs.

According to Ibrahim, a water-well in the middle of the city of Erbil that was 200 meters deep has now dried up and they now need to dig three hundred meters to reach water in the same place.

Waste of water by the public, decrease in the amounts of rains and the digging of a large number of water-wells without research, permission and strategic planning in all the underground water sources for various purposes including agriculture, industrial projects and drinking has significantly decreased the underground water reserves.

According to a study of the Furat Research Center, the Central Erbil aquifer had a capacity of 2000 wells, but 3000 wells have been dug on this source, a factor that has lowered the quantity and quality of the underground water in this area.

In the 1970s, in the northern parts of Erbil the level of underground water was only 7 meters below surface, but such wells have all dried up now and to reach water one needs to dig 250-300 meters.

A large quantity of drinking water is wasted by consumers. Lack of water meters and low water prices are major factors behind this waste of water.

According to a study of the Water Protection Center there are 50 carwashes in the Erbil city center, each of which spends on average 50,000 liters of water every day. This means that in total 2.5 million liters of water is spent by the carwashes alone. The strange thing is that all this is drinking water.

If a person's daily drinking water consumption is 2 liters, then the drinking water of 1.25 million people, approximately one-third of the whole region's population, is wasted by Erbil's carwashes.

This is a small example of how water is wasted in Kurdistan. If more investigations are done on the households and factories, more mind-blowing conclusions could be reached.

Rashid Jarjees, Chairman of the Water Protection Center, suggests that the carwashes can have tanks to collect the used water and reuse them, and that water meters could be installed for the households to control their consumption.

There is no law to control the way water is consumed, and even if there was a law in the past to govern this, it is certainly not being applied now.

According to the center's studies during the past 14 years the level of underground water has decreased by 200 meters, which, according to Jarjees, is an indication that a national campaign for saving of water is needed.

There are more than 300,000 households using water in across three major cities in the region and regardless of how much water each household consumes, they pay a standard monthly fee of IQD 750 (approximately USD 0.60).

Recently the KRG has allocated USD 50 million for the first phase of a project to install water meters for the households, but after 2 years, still the money is withheld and the meters are yet to be bought and installed.

Engineer Ibrahim explains that the reason behind the delays was that the contracted company for the implementation of this project, a UAE company called BMC, was contracted to supply water meters of a specific standard but it did not follow this condition.

"That is why it is expected that the contract with BMC is terminated and a new contract to be signed with another company to do the job."

During the past few decades the climate changes has created draught threats in a number of countries around the world and a number of lakes have dried up. These global changes have had an impact on the Kurdistan Region, hence developing a suitable policy for the protection and control of the water resources is a must.

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There are 6,730 deep water wells in Erbil Province, 2,500 of which do not have license. The depth of the wells ranges between 40 to 120 meters and they have been dug by piling machines.

In Sulaimaniya Province and Garmian Area there are 5,738 licensed water wells for various purposes, while there are more than 17,000 unlicensed wells , all of which were dug using piling machines. Majority of these wells are inside the city of Sulaimaniya, most of which are dug by individual households. However, 80% of those wells have dried up due to the decrease of the level of underground water.

In Duhok there are 2,074 wells, out of which 30-40 are unlicensed.

According to the official United Nations statistics approximately 884 million people do not have access to clean drinking water worldwide, while more than 2.5 billion people are deprived from a decent and clean sewage system. Additionally, every year at least 1.5 million children lose their lives due to drinking water pollution and lack of sewage system.