Iraq’s water crisis drying up fish farming in Basra

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Iraq is in the grip of a severe water shortage which has left crop growers and food producers such as Iraqi fish farmer Qasem Karam facing the loss of their livelihoods.

Walking over dusty land in the sweltering midday heat in the southern province of Basra, Karam points to his dried up carp ponds, once irrigated by the Shatt al-Arab river.

“Everything is full of salt now because of water scarcity and pollution,” he said, pointing at white patches of salt crust nearby.
“These ponds cost us a lot of time, money and effort. We had an economic plan, but it is all destroyed.”

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Upstream damming in Turkey and Iran has hit waterflows on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which form the Shatt al-Arab river, plus dumping of wastewater and poor rainfall due to climate change have led to a drastic reduction in fish farming, experts and officials said.

Lower water levels have also increased evaporation and made the water more saline.

Karam and three other fish farmers Reuters spoke with said the loss of suitable water was driving them out of a once thriving and profitable business.

According to an official at Basra’s agriculture directorate, Abbas Dakheel, only four authorized fish farms continued to work this year, as opposed to 15 in 2020.

“This water is green, dirty and polluted. No fish can live in this water,” said Karam, kneeling down next to a pipe irrigating his pond.

He said that his fish were now either sick, failing to grow or dead as a result.

Jumaa Shia, head of Basra’s directorate of water resources, said the city of 1.3 million needs to share its decreasing water resources among domestic users, agriculture, the oil industry and electricity generation.

To save water, authorities have taken measures including closing down some 95 unauthorized fish farms in Basra.

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