New report and webtool provide insight into Iraq’s looming water crisis: IOM and Deltares

jamesdale10 / CC BY (
jamesdale10 / CC BY (

Iraq faces a complex water crisis that is expected to persist and might have implications at the humanitarian, socioeconomic, security and social levels, including population movements. In July 2019, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Iraq identified 21,314 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the central and southern governorates who were displaced due to the lack of water associated with high salinity content or waterborne disease outbreaks.

Intake from the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers – Iraq’s primary sources of water – is decreasing at an unprecedented rate. Concurrently, climate change is leading to increasing average temperatures and decreasing annual rainfall, causing further challenges throughout the region. The risk of water shortage-induced displacement of populations in Iraq remains high due to degradation of the quantity and quality of available water.

Understanding variations in water

Deltares and IOM Iraq have published a new report — Water Quantity and Water Quality in Central and South Iraq: A Preliminary Assessment in the Context of Displacement Risk — focused on understanding variations in water quantity and water quality in central and southern governorates over the last two decades.

“As a member of the Water, Peace and Security Partnership, Deltares aims to improve the availability of water data and information to help prevent water crises,” said Karen Meijer, Senior Researcher at Deltares. “Working with IOM has given us the opportunity to tailor our analysis to information needs for preventing and responding to water-related displacement and improve decision support in this area.”

Mitigating the water crisis

The report provides insight for the coming years, and key recommendations to mitigate the water crisis, based on an exploratory model-based analysis.

“Water scarcity is one of the main threats to agricultural communities. Environmental factors are among the drivers of displacement and have witnessed this in governorates like Thi-Qar, Basra, Najaf and Kerbala,” said IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Gerard Waite. “The evidence presented in this report can inform future actions to mitigate a looming water crisis, that would leave vulnerable communities more at risk.”

Water Risk Webtool

Deltares and IOM Iraq have also launched the Iraq Water Risk Webtool, an interactive webtool that provides insight into variations in water quantity and water quality over time in the central and southern governorates in Iraq. Using data from past years, it explores the impact of different scenarios of water management, climate change, and effectiveness of measures to mitigate these changes. The tool presents Baseline, Water Management, and Climate Change scenarios, each showcasing two series of interactive maps on past and future water availability and water quality.

First step to better preparedness

This study was carried out as part of IOM’s efforts to better understand forced migration as a result of environmental factors, and craft more effective responses. In Iraq, this project is a first step towards better preparedness and response measures — designed by and for vulnerable populations that may be faced with the difficult prospect of climate migration.

Funding partners

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Deltares’ work under the Water, Peace and Security partnership was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

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