Basra governorate is located at the far south of Iraq bordering Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the south and Iran to the east, occupying an area of 181 km2. Basra is rich in oil fields and known to be a major producer of date palms, wheat, barley and rice.i Basra City is the governorate’s main urban center with an estimated population of more than four million inhabitants.ii The region currently suffers from major water salinity issues, as a result of salt water contamination of the Tigris River, rendering it unfit for human consumption, livestock and crop production. Issues of water access are further exacerbated by climate change, as the region suffers from persistent droughts, as well as upstream damming in Turkey on both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which result in reduced water levels.
Increased water salinity and water shortages in Basra have adversely affected the agricultural sector, which is a major employer in rural communities and a significant income source for rural households. The livestock sector has also suffered, as a lack of animal feed and clean water has resulted in livestock deaths, particularly among buffalo. Communities reported that they can no longer sustain feeding their herds due to the prohibitively high cost of animal feed and clean water processed through reserve osmosis plants.
Areas of marshlands and fertile terrain will be further reduced, due to continued water shortages and the informal rezoning of agricultural land to residential. According to the UN, an estimated 250 km2 of fertile land is lost annually to desertification. Further development of agricultural lands will accelerate this process, as rural to urban migration increases and urban centers are forced to expand to accommodate increased populations. It is estimated that up to four million Iraqis will be forced to migrate from their homes during the next eight years as a result of the ongoing water crisis. iii
Meanwhile, the country is struggling to deal with the ongoing challenges of up to two million people still displaced by armed conflict. Experts have warned that the country’s next security crisis could be sparked by the devastation of agricultural lands from chronic water shortages.iv
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) conducted a rapid livelihoods and market assessment mission to Basra from 7th – 10th October 2018. The objective of this mission was to examine the impact of water salinity and other shocks on the livelihoods of Basra’s residents. Based on these findings, NRC will provide recommendations for livelihood and market-based interventions.