Sun-baked Iraqis protest water and electricity scarcity

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Despite punishingly high temperatures, dozens of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday to protest water and electricity shortages, and to blame Turkey for reduced flow of rivers.

Designated by the United Nations as one of the five countries in the world most touched by some effects of climate change, Iraq is experiencing its fourth consecutive summer of drought.

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“We have come to peacefully protest and demand water from the government and the source countries,” Najeh Jawda Khalil told AFP around midday as temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The agricultural regions and marshes are gone,” said Khalil, who travelled to the Iraqi capital from the central province of Babylon for the march. “There is neither electricity nor water.”

In addition to declining rainfall and rising temperatures, Iraqi authorities say upstream dam construction by Turkey and Iran has affected the volume of water in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers through Iraq.

“If the Turkish government continues to deprive Iraqis of water, we will move towards internationalizing the water problem and boycotting Turkish products,” read a sign at the demonstration.

Summer in Iraq is a prime example of the convergence of multiple crises weighing down the lives of the 43-million strong population: rising temperatures, severe water shortages and a dilapidated electricity sector -- exacerbated by rampant corruption and public mismanagement.

“Twenty years and the electricity crisis repeats itself every year,” read another banner, referring to the time passed since the fall of Saddam Hussein in a US-led invasion.

Ravaged by decades of conflict, Iraq relies on Iranian gas imports for a third of its energy needs.

Generally, power cuts can last up to 10 hours a day. But every summer when the thermometer climbs, the supply of public electricity worsens.

Only those who can afford it are able to connect their houses to neighborhood generators to make up for the poor supply.

Water shortages have fueled tensions between Turkey and Iraq, which demands Ankara release more water from upstream dams along the rivers.

“Currently, Iraq only receives 35 percent of its water rights. This means that Iraq has lost 65 percent of its water, whether it’s from the Tigris or the Euphrates,” Khaled Chamal, the spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources, has told AFP.

In the summer of 2022, the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad sparked outrage after accusing Iraqis of wasting water and urging “the modernization of irrigation systems.”

Experts say he may have a point. Iraqi farmers flood their fields, rather than irrigate them which is more efficient.

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