Iraq: A Rapidly Changing Climate, and imperative for coordinated action

In Iraq, the weather is becoming more unpredictable with every passing year. Climate change has left its mark on a country recovering from conflict, and what was predicted to happen in a decade is happening now. Ahead of the 3rd International Water Conference in Baghdad, the Norwegian Refugee Council is calling on the Government of Iraq, policy makers and international community to implement an ambitious Water Action Plan for Iraq to prevent climate related crises and support durable solutions to displacement.

In 2022, Iraq witnessed a second consecutive year of drought and record low levels of rainfall. In a country where almost 1.2 million people remain in informal settlements, temperatures reached as high as 50 degrees Celsius in the summer—disrupting crop cycles, impacting agriculture economies, and leading to acute shortage of water. Our survey of 1,341 households across five governorates revealed a 90% decrease in wheat production as a direct result of water shortages. Buffalo herders in the Mesopotamian marshes told us they lost up to one fourth of their herds, valued to the level of 2,000 USD.   

We congratulate the Government of Iraq for taking the bold step of signing the Paris Agreement of 2021, and its commitment to developing a Green Paper. We encourage the country’s leadership to move forward with their ambitious implementation plans, given the clock is ticking. Last year, drought conditions and decreased river levels significantly limited access to drinking and irrigation water, depleted harvests and incomes, and impacted access to food and income. Today, as millions of Iraq’s displaced citizens return or resettle in an effort to rebuild their lives, the threat of secondary displacement induced by climate change looms large. 

Tayseer, a 42-year-old farmer from Hawija, is a participant in NRC programmes, and one of many who has been impacted significantly by the drought. “I couldn’t plant on all my land due to water scarcity. I also have cows on my land, and I had to sell one of them to afford digging a new well. Because of a shortage of water, I have been forced to cultivate almost less than half of my land. My income has been slashed in half.”


Tayseer’s family have farmed the lands of Hawija for decades, but now, water shortage is forcing him to think of moving. Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council

Tayseer fears that if these conditions continue to persist, he will have to leave home to find another job. “If I cannot survive here, I will have to leave my land. Many of my neighbours have already left for the cities because they could not dig wells or afford electricity to pump water for their crops.” 

Climate adaptation remains a key focus of NRC operations in Iraq and is geared toward supporting community resilience to shocks. In many of the regions where we work, farmers are completely reliant on rainwater, or on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. When the rains stop, livelihoods suffer. NRC continues to explore climate resilient adaptations like greenhouses, and more efficient agricultural practices like rainwater harvesting, drip-irrigation and hydroponics. For areas completely dependent on rainwater, we support alternate value chains such as livestock rearing. 

A herd of livestock in Ba’aj. Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council

The 3rd Water Conference provides an opportunity for action. Led by the Iraqi government, and in collaboration with private and non-profit stakeholders, the conference provides a platform to discuss innovative agricultural practices and sustainable use of water resources to stimulate the country’s economy. Equally importantly, the conference indicates the Iraqi government's commitment to spearhead regional cooperation and coordination as it pertains to water sharing, risk mitigation, and disaster risk management. In Baghdad, by pooling expertise and support across sectors, Iraq can put anticipatory action at the forefront of climate mitigation measures on a national and regional scale. 

We remain committed to supporting the Iraqi government to identify acutely vulnerable areas and communities and provide them with the support they need to adapt to the changing environment. As people across Iraq rebuild, we look forward to continuing to work with the government for a more climate-resilient, more climate-adaptable Iraq.