Report

Inadequate and inequitable: water scarcity and displacement in Iraq

Published 26. Nov 2023
Iraq’s climate is changing faster than people can adapt. With each passing summer, new records are logged: record high temperatures, record low water levels.

Between May and October, the heat scorches all that is dead and sears everything that lives. During the day, the sun forces people inside; in the evening, the heat lingers in cities that feel like the inside of a hair dryer.

All this is happening in a country rebuilding from 20 years of conflict; to 45 million people looking to find a way to move forward with their lives.

Despite the scale and speed of climate change across the country, and the impact it is already having on millions, international attention and support has been slow to mobilise. Humanitarian donors have largely deprioritised Iraq as the humanitarian response to the 2014 conflict transitions into development-oriented approaches. On the other hand, development donors have been slow to step forward, often citing Iraq’s oil revenue as proof of the country’s capacity to solve its own problems. Combined, this gap in support has meant that communities recovering from conflict and displacement are now at risk of being displaced by impacts of the climate change as systems stretched by years of conflict approach breaking point.

Starting in 2021, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has issued a yearly report on the impact of drought in Iraq across four broad themes: water security and governance, income and food insecurity, social tension, and drought and displacement. Increasingly, our analysis indicates that extreme weather is, among other things, negatively impacting crop yields, access and functionality of market systems, exacerbating social schisms, and precipitating risks of secondary displacement.   

NRC’s yearly drought analysis aims to spur the development of policy and practice addressing the interlinkages between the climate crisis and displacement. As an agency focused on supporting people who have been forced to flee, we see an imperative to raise the alarm on a train careening off the tracks.

Key findings

  • 60 per cent of surveyed farmers across Anbar, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salahaddin were forced to cultivate less land or use less water during the 2023 farming season.
  • 4 in 5 respondents in farming communities in Ninewa and Kirkuk had to reduce food expenditure over the past 12 months.
  • While reported income in farming communities increased in 2023, income security of women declined: 15 per cent of women reported not earning incomes in 2023, compared to 6 per cent in 2022.
  • The Ninewa Plains show signs of an emerging hotspot, with interlinkages between climate, peace and security exacerbating community trust and movement intentions.
  • 1 in 5 respondents in Ba’aj linked climate change to increased social tensions, and 1 in 4 are thinking of moving because of drought.
  • 1 in 4 small scale farmers in Sinjar and Ba’aj reported being forced to give up farming in 2023, and almost 40 per cent had to reduce expenditure on food.