While the public health impact as a result of Basra’s water crisis continues has received considerable media and international attention, the impact of water scarcity and salinity levels in Iraq on the livelihoods on Basra’s residents have been overlooked. Much of the population of Basra governorate depend on agriculture as a main source of income. The current water salinity has strongly disrupted the livelihood of the farmers. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, Iraq is losing about 250 km2 of arable land every year, damage that could be permanent. According to Iraqi officials, this could cause up to four million Iraqis to become displaced in the next eight years. In 2018 alone, around 4,000 people were forced to flee their homes in the South of Iraq due to the water crisis.
The objective of Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) third mission to Basra was to conduct a rapid livelihoods and market assessment that examines the impact of water salinity and other shocks to the income sources of Basra’s residents and their local markets and inform recommendations for livelihoods and market-based programmatic interventions in the area.
The key findings in NRC’s latest mission show that a number of districts in Basra governorate have been adversely affected by increased water salinity, largely bringing vegetable production to a halt. Consequently, agricultural land is being informally re-zoned into residential areas and people are now relying on non-agricultural sources of income, which have proven to be insufficient and unsustainable for most households. Although in northern Basra, water remains useable for agriculture, the overall water shortages and reduced river flows have affected wheat and barley production, crops which require large quantities of water.
• Provide business development training and business activation grants or business support grants to those who already started business where agricultural livelihoods has been halted due to lack of alternative water sources
• Provide vocational skills training for women, men and youth, informed by labour market assessment. This can occur through the Vocational Training Centre in Basra in coordination with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs
• Government and international partners should distribute reverse osmosis units in areas without alternative water sources
• Conduct awareness campaigns to preserve and ration the use of water across Iraq
• Provide support and facilitate regional dialogues that work towards developing a framework that supports a more equitable sharing and distribution of water resources between countries in the region. Iraq is largely reliant on water that flows downstream from neighbouring countries, making it more vulnerable to the impact of instability in the region in regards to water supply