The marshlands of southern Iraq account for just under half of the inland waters for the country and have historically been a critical source of livelihoods for households located in Al-Basra, Maysan, and Thi Qar Governorates.1 In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein drained the once-thriving marshes when Shiite rebels sought refuge there, causing almost 500,000 residents to flee.By the early 2000s, less than 10% of the original marshland area was still functioning.3 Despite efforts to restore the marshes in subsequent years, the area is once again at risk of reduced water levels. This is due to a combination of low levels of rainfall in the region, reduced water flows from both Turkey and Iran, and poor infrastructure including aging pipes and illegal siphoning.4 The worsening conditions of the marshlands have a negative effect for the populations who rely on them for income from fishing, agriculture, livestock rearing, handicraft production, shelter construction, and other economic livelihoods.5 In early 2015, National Geographic reported instances of households leaving due to the deteriorating livelihoods situation in the marshlands.
Reasons for this movement included decreasing water quality, increases in waterborne diseases, worsening tribal relations, and lowering water levels leading to decreased ability to fish.6 In 2021, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) conducted a survey in Basra city where they interviewed migrants from rural parts of neighbouring governorates in southern Iraq. It was reported that the two main drivers for migration to Basra city, the largest urban city in the south, were the lack of economic opportunities (52%) and water scarcity (49%), followed by death of livestock (16%), lack of access to services (13%), and crop failures (10%).7 Most displaced persons surveyed moved to the city with their families, with a few cases of individuals moving on their own.
While these reports are useful in providing insight on the major drivers for urban migration and the integration challenges faced by migrants, they do not provide analysis specifically on how changes in water level have impacted the livelihoods of marshland residents in southern Iraq and their movement intentions, if any. As conditions in the marshlands continue to deteriorate in the short and medium term, additional climate-motivated displacement is likely to occur. However, there is limited information available on the scale of displacement in these areas and the specific drivers which motivate households to move from or stay in an area. This in turn limits the ability of actors to consider programmes and activities designed to address these drivers.
The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the drivers and scope of climate-motivated displacement and the issues facing climatedisplaced persons in southern Iraq.In doing so, the report seeks to inform programmatic interventions as climate change increasingly threatens vulnerable communities in the south, especially in the marshlands of Al-Basra, Thi Qar and Maysan Governorates.