From 16-17 May 2020 the Virtual Assembly of the Mesopotamian Water Forum will take place online. 1 year after the first Mesopotamian Water Forum held in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, water movements and civil society organizations from Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran – the four states of the Tigris-Euphrates basin – will take part in 2 days of discussion and debate, joined by other internationals. Since the Virtual Assembly will be held in English, participating activists from the Mesopotamian region will organize local virtual assemblies in local languages, to prepare for the main regional discussion. In this series, we will provide summaries of each local assembly, prior to the main Virtual Assembly taking place from 16-17 May.
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Mesopotamian Water Forum Local Assembly of Iraq, 4 May 2020
To prepare for the Virtual Assembly of the Mesopotamian Water Forum, a local assembly for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) was organized with 15 participants from Sulaimaniyah, Halabjah, Erbil, Ranya, Garmian and Darbandikhan. the 2-hour discussion touched upon the impacts of the Covid-10 pandemic in the Kurdistan Region, and in particular its effects on environmental pollution. The local assembly discussed some of the main issues related to water security in the Kurdistan Region. Activists differentiated between internal and external issues.
As for internal issues in the KRI, they emphasized the lack of awareness of water conservation among the general population (overconsumption remains common), as well as lack of implementation of environmental laws. The region requires further comprehensive water management, even if there is sufficient water for drinking and irrigation. Participants did found that annual changes in precipitation has a large effect on the Dukan and Darbandikhan dam reservoirs, as well as groundwater levels.
Pollution of both surface and groundwater is common in the KRI. These include pesticides, fertilizers and waste leaking from landfills, which make their ways into aquifers and not fit for human consumption. Agricultural waste from farms and livestock activities wash nutrients and pathogens (including bacteria and viruses) into waterways. Municipal and industrial generate toxic discharge; industries and domestic waste is dumped into waterways. Gravel mining continues to be one of the main activities effecting geomorphological pattern of rivers, impacting the chemical and physical properties of surface water. The local assembly noted that the lack of data on water resources and management a serious obstacle to sound policies. Data on ground – and surface water should be collected on an annual basis.
As for external issues, the water resources of the KRI are under pressure from neighbours, causing disruptions in water flows to the Kurdistan Region. Governments have exploited transboundary rivers for political motivations. Dams and related water infrastucture have been constructed to control transboundary water flows. The participants noted that Iran has built a number of tunnels to divert water from Western regions to Central region of the country.
The local assembly of the Kurdistan Region agreed that NGOs and environmental activists of Mesopotamia should set up a council with the aim of protecting water resources across the basin, advocating with their respective governments for basin-wide management. The Mesopotamian Water Forum could be such instrument. The participants of the local assembly emphasized that the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region should collaborate to negotiate with Turkey and Iran for equal shares of water. The network of the Mesopotamian Water Forum could function as a platform to provide support on environmental monitoring, awareness programs and other activities.