UNESCO and EU launch a flagship-programme on National Groundwater Resources in Iraq
In the framework of their significant efforts towards supporting the Iraqi government in overcoming the devastating impact of water shortage, UNESCO and the European Union (EU) launched the phase II of the "Advanced Survey of Hydrogeological Resources in Iraq" (ASHRI-2), a pioneering initiative that aims to improve national capacities in the exploration and integrated management of groundwater resources, and enhance both, efficiency and effectiveness of public planning and policy making in the National Water Sector.
After several months of technical and operation consultations, UNESCO and EU representatives met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad on October 28 2013 to announce the official launch of the diversified activities which will be implemented in the framework of this new programme. The programme lasting for the coming 30 months, will be undertaken by UNESCO Iraq Office with the main collaboration of the Ministry of Water Resources in Baghdad, the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources in the Kurdistan Regional Government, in addition to other relevant line-ministries, namely the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Planning.
"We are proud that we did not stop at Phase I of this project, and that we proceed towards establishing a real, solid, and scientific base for a comprehensive management system for underwater resources in Iraq", said Director General of the state bureau for ground water at the Ministry of Water Resources Mr. Dhafer Abdullah Hussain. "All this would not have been possible without the stakeholders' realistic understanding of the magnitude of the problems and challenges in this project", he added as he praised the positive involvement of the EU and UNESCO in implementing this key initiative.
"This programme marks a new chapter in the EU-Iraq cooperation. The European people are committed to assist the Iraqi people in their quest for quality basic services" explained Ambassador of the EU in Iraq Dr. Jana Hybáŝková. She also stated that "modern management of the groundwater assets is essential for Iraq and the EU is proud to be able to assist. We are confident that the results of the programme will last beyond the implementation to the benefit of the Iraqi people".
"Acquiring a full understanding of the water shortage in Iraq is the first step towards effectively addressing its deep social and economic impacts", stated the Director of UNESCO Iraq Office Louise Haxthausen. "By its completion, this survey will constitute the main technical reference for all stakeholders in the country's water sector. It will provide new data, gaining extended scientific knowledge about the deep groundwater bodies of Iraq’s hydrogeological resources, which will lead to informed decision making and effective policies for an improved water resources’ management", added Ms. Haxthausen.
Considerable variability in the climate, upstream supply, and domestic use has caused Iraq’s hydrological system to undergo dramatic change over the past 30 years. Reservoirs, lakes and rivers are diminished to critical levels, while water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Iraq’s primary sources of surface water, have fallen to less than a third of their normal capacity. The government estimates that it is down to 20 per cent of its reserves, and that close to two million Iraqis face severe drinking water shortages. Meanwhile, Iraq has gone from being a prominent wheat exporter to being the world’s largest importer of wheat. Lack of integrated and up-to-date information on hydrogeological resources is significantly undermining the government's efforts to address water shortage.
Based on the baseline of existing knowledge established by UNESCO during the first phase of this project in 2010, this new advanced survey will serve to update the information available, and improve governmental capacities in terms of interpretation, exploration, and sustainable utilization of hydrogeological resources, in addition to aquifers and soil management - a key factor to address water shortages and promote sustainable agricultural development.
Through an EU fund of five million Euros, "ASHRI 2" aims to update the information available and improve the government's management of the country's groundwater. Building upon UNESCO's long experience and studies in the field of drought and water resources management in Iraq, this programme will be crucial to address water shortage and its dangerous outcomes on health and environment.
The EU’s objective for cooperation with Iraq has been to help Iraq mobilise its own resources for recovery and development, with the support of the international community. EU support to Iraq from 2003 to the end of 2012 amounts to over 1 billion Euros targeting mainly the following sectors: basic services such as education, health, water and sanitation, infrastructure; political and electoral process; support to refugees and IDPs; rule of law; human rights; and capacity building of Iraqi institutions.
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