17.06.2015 - UNESCO Office for Iraq

On World Day to Combat Desertification, Iraq pays heavy toll for consequences of drought

As the global community today observes World Day to Combat Desertification, Iraq continues to suffer from aridity and severe desertification. UNESCO helps combat this dramatic development that affects up to 90 percent of the country, through a variety of initiatives including the improvement of drought risk management and the development of a better understanding of the hydrogeological conditions.

Experts say that climatic factors are among the most important reasons leading to desertification and the creeping of sands and formation of sand dunes. Shortage of water as a result of decreasing annual resource from upstream coupled with quality degradation and continuous drought cycles are considered the most important factors accelerating desertification.

Climatic factors are also directly linked with water balance, rainfall, heat balance, relative humidity and winds. The annual rainfall in Iraq ranging from 800 to 1200 mm in the northern area and going down to 50 to 100 mm in the southern area.

But experts also say that human activities such as over felling of trees, overgrazing, forest fires and abuse of natural pastures and the off-road vehicles as well as military actions are  additional factors that increase the extent of desertification in Iraq.  Also, traditional plowing of the northern plains and steppes led to the erosion of the surface soil and consequently decreased its fertility and productivity. Poor irrigation methods have led to water logging and high level of salinity owing to the rise in water table level and hence to the desertification of the soil and subsequent abandonment.

The state of desertification in Iraq worsened after 1990. Areas of lands affected by salinity, water logging and deterioration of the vegetation cover increased. Areas covered by moving sand dunes increased owing to wind erosion. Beside these entire factors the population increase, migration and urban creep are all becoming an added adverse factors leading to desertification.

“Since 2000, we have seen significant progress towards the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger – but these challenges remain deep and prevalent in the dry land areas of developing countries, where water retention is poor as a result of natural processes and human actions”, stresses UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova in her message on the occasion of World Day to Combat Desertification.

The government of Iraq has taken several measures including establishing a large land reclamation programme, improving its water resources management and increasing the green belts and sand dunes fixation throughout the affected areas.

Parallel to that, the UNESCO Office for Iraq in coordination with other UN agencies is assisting Iraq to combat desertification. It has been involved with UNDP in preparing a frame work for “Drought Risk Management”, for monitoring as well as putting an early warning system through the establishment of specialized institution in Iraq. The framework also suggests the improvement of data collection and dissemination.

With ground water being as an important source of water in Iraq especially in remote areas, UNESCO, with funding from the European Union is presently carrying out an advanced hydro-geological survey of ground water in Iraq in partnership with the Ministry of Water Resources.  This very substantial project explores the ground water basins in the country and will ultimately contribute to the emergence of more green areas thus combating desertification.

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