Advanced Hydrogeological Survey for Sustainable Groundwater Development

Iraq’s hydrological system has undergone dramatic change over the past 30 years, driven primarily by pressures related to rising demand for a resource of increasingly limited supply. A shortage of perennial surface water in recent years has meant that reservoirs, lakes and rivers are diminished to critical levels. The Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, the country's primary source of water, have fallen to less than a third of normal capacity. With national storage capacity dropping to around 9 per cent of full capacity in December 2009, the government estimates that it is down to 20 per cent of its reserves. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, close to two million Iraqis faced severe drinking water shortages by the end of 2009.

The stress on the system has affected agriculture to the extent that Iraq has shifted from being a prominent wheat exporter to being the world’s largest importer of wheat. Poor irrigation and drainage methods have led to considerable wastage in water resources, highlighted by the fact that over 90% of Iraq's water is currently used for an agricultural sector that provides for less than a quarter of the country's food needs.

Notwithstanding this wealth of Iraqi expertise in hydrogeology, water management decisions are taken using data that is modelled on traditional scientific tools and methods. Studies are outdated and current science contains significant spatial and temporal gaps, producing less than optimal results for planning, monitoring and exploitation. Because information is disjointed across different agencies, a comprehensive and integrated assessment is currently difficult to achieve. Current understanding of Iraq’s groundwater availability and dynamics is incomplete, and needs updating through the use of modern techniques.

Before undertaking an advanced hydrogeological survey that would update government knowledge, however, there is a clear need to take stock of the current understanding of sub-surface resources by collating records and data on hydrogeological resources to form a more complete inventory. Historical and current knowledge of hydrogeological resources – mapping historical trends and sub-surface phenomena –are crucial inputs for a robust and accurate hydrogeological survey. From the establishment of such an inventory, a greater understanding of not only the resource itself, but also information about the government’s collective knowledge (gaps, metadata, etc.) will be gained. This Phase I has established the baseline and plans for the subsequent advanced survey of hydrogeological resources (Phase II).

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