Why Iraq’s great rivers are dying

Why Iraq’s great rivers are dying


This is the Shatt al-Arab.
The river that winds through the city of Basra,
here, in Southern Iraq.
It was once one of the most important waterways
in the Middle East:
Here lies the great port of Basra, at the
cross-roads of the world’s trade.
It fed dozens of canals throughout Basra and
earned the city the nickname, The Venice of
the Middle East.
It made Basra the symbol of Iraq’s growth
and prosperity.
Today it’s the second largest city with over
4 million people.
And with these oil fields and the only deep-water
port in the country, it’s also the economic
center.
About 80% of Iraq’s revenue comes from here.
But this is what Basra’s canals look like
today.
In the summer of 2018, they were choked with
debris, raw sewage and rotting garbage that
was poisoning the city’s residents.
About 100,000 people were hospitalized because
of water-related illnesses.
Basra now represents a crisis that’s been
looming over Iraq for decades:
The country is running
out of water.
That’s because it neither controls the flow of its rivers, nor has the infrastructure to clean them.
It’s standing in the way of Iraq’s recovery.
“The waters of the two great rivers, Tigris and the Euphrates, are indeed the waters of life.”
Almost all of Iraq’s water comes from two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris.
Which run down most of the country then converge
here to form the Shatt al-Arab before emptying
into the Persian Gulf.
Along the way these rivers provide drinking
water to these cities and irrigate farms and
marshlands here.
The rest of the country is mostly desert.
A vast network of infrastructure is used to
generate power, distribute the water, and
clean it.
That includes Dams, canals, and water treatment
facilities.
But this system is delicate.
Anything that affects the amount of water
flowing down these rivers or the infrastructure
around it can have massive consequences.
Over the last few decades, both have taken a hit.
Iraq relies heavily on these rivers, but it
doesn’t control them.
Both rivers begin in Turkey.
About 71% of Iraq’s water comes from there,
while Syria and Iran add another 10% as the
rivers move south.
Which means 81% of Iraq’s water is controlled
by its neighbors.
And they’ve been keeping more and more of it for
themselves.
Since the 1970s, Turkey has built at least
20 dams on the Euphrates and the tributaries
that feed it, including the Ataturk dam – the
5th largest in the world – to provide electricity
and water to its growing population.
Syria has built several dams too.
Both countries are holding the river hostage.
Today, only a quarter of the Euphrates’ normal
flow reaches Iraq.
The same thing is happening on the Tigris.
Turkey is building a number of dams here,
including the Ilisu dam.
When it was close to completion in 2018, it
blocked so much water that residents all the
way down in Baghdad could cross the Tigris
by foot.
To make matters worse, many of the tributaries
that feed the Tigris begin in Iran.
And there, they’ve built 600 hundred dams
in the last 30 years and dozens are under
construction.
All of this means that Iraq, the furthest
country downstream, isn’t getting enough water.
There’s less to drink, irrigate crops and
generate electricity.
It also means the rivers are more contaminated.
At a normal flow, water can dilute a lot of
the toxins and sewage that get dumped into
the river.
But when levels are low, these pollutants become
more potent.
Plus, the weaker flow allows salt water to
move upstream from the Persian gulf – which
kills fish and crops.
All of this puts more pressure on Iraq’s
infrastructure to distribute and clean the water.
The problem is – much of this infrastructure
has been destroyed – and Iraq hasn’t been
able to rebuild it.
There have been 3 devastating wars in Iraq
in the last three decades
Just 2 hours ago, allied airforces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
The Gulf war began when Iraq’s ruler,
Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait – a US ally.
The US led a coalition to retaliate with airstrikes.
“We are determined to knock out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb potential,
destroy his chemical
weapons facilities. Much of Saddam’s
artillery and tanks will be destroyed.
But they also bombed Iraq’s infrastructure.
Including 4 hydro-electric dams.
Which in turn, disabled the water treatment
facilities that relied on electricity.
A sewage treatment plant in Baghdad was also
bombed – causing sewage to flow into the Tigris
– poisoning the water supply for Southern
Iraq.
This UN report said the war reduced [Iraq]
to the “pre-industrial age” and that the
country would face a “imminent catastrophe”.
Saddam survived the war, but the UN imposed
strict sanctions, freezing Iraq’s bank
accounts and restricting what it could import.
Including construction supplies and water
purification chemicals.
Then Saddam made things even worse.
In 1993, he was fighting rebels in these marshlands.
Despite the post-war water crisis he weaponized
the water here by diverting the rivers away
from the marshes.
Over the years, this whole area was drained
– and turned into a desert.
Thousands reportedly died and at least 100,000
people were forced to leave.
By the early 2000s, Iraq’s water supply
continued to shrink while infrastructure failed.
Thousands of Iraqi civilians had died from
water-related diseases like cholera, typhoid,
and dysentery.
Then in 2003, the US returned with a full
invasion of Iraq.
This time they quickly toppled Saddam’s
regime and installed a “temporary” Iraqi
government.
But the invasion further damaged the country’s
infrastructure.
40% of Iraq didn’t have access to clean
water.
And 70% of the sewage systems needed repair
a few months after the invasion.
So the US and Iraqi governments announced
a huge reconstruction plan to rebuild infrastructure.
They planned to bring safe water to about
23 million people and triple Iraq’s water
treatment capacity.
But by 2006 – the program only delivered safe
drinking water to over a third of the people
it intended to.
And Iraq’s water treatment capacity was
still an eighth of the program’s goal.
Millions of dollars were lost because of mismanagement
and corruption.
Reconstruction was a failure.
“Meanwhile in Iraq tonight, more deadly violence in what appears to be a concerted effort to spark a new civil war there.
“Inching toward a new civil war, many fear.”
“Falling apart. The government is collapsing, the violence is starting.
“We’re seeing all the symptoms of the civil war in Iraq starting up again.”
By 2011, Iraq was still unstable when the
US pulled out its remaining troops – creating
a dangerous power vacuum.
Which was quickly filled by a violent extremist
group called the Islamic State.
Their tactics deepened Iraq’s water crisis further.
They advanced down the two rivers capturing
strategic points, taking control of Iraq’s
water supply, and turning it into a weapon.
Like this dam in Ramadi:
“Controlling the dam, cutting the water, flow, cut supply to the pro-government towns downstream,
making it easier for ISIS to attack. Water the ultimate weapon, in this blistering desert.”
ISIS also poisoned water-supplies with oil,
here in the city of Tikrit.
And destroyed most of this barrage in Fallujah.
By 2018, ISIS lost most of the territory it
controlled, but the damage to Iraq’s water
was already done.
If the country was going to recover – it had to rebuild this system, and fast.
So the Iraqi government announced a massive
$100 billion dollar reconstruction effort
in 2018.
But by the summer, the water crisis came to
a head at the southern tip of the country,
in Basra, where the river was dangerously
low and toxic.
Deadly riots erupted in Basra.
Government buildings were burned and many
called for the Prime Minister to resign.
Despite being the economic center of Iraq,
Basra had been ignored and left to deteriorate.
The Iraqi Commision of Integrity, which investigated
corruption found that:
13 water desalination plants that had been
donated to Basra in 2006 never opened.
About $600 million was pledged for water projects
that were never completed.
And Basra’s sewage network was supposed
to receive a multi- million dollar upgrade
in 2014, but it was still leaking into the Shatt al-Arab in 2018.
Despite the uproar against corruption and
lack of public infrastructure, Iraqis continue
to suffer.
Year after year, the water crisis has gotten
worse.
And Basra, once a symbol of growth and prosperity,
has come to represent Iraq’s biggest battle
ahead.
If the country wants to rebuild, it first
needs to stabilize Basra.
And bring clean water to its people.

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About Nicklaus Predovic

100 thoughts on “Why Iraq’s great rivers are dying

  1. Thank you for watching today's Vox Atlas! I wanted to leave a note about our process since so many of you have asked. First of all, yes, Atlas takes a TON of research and reporting. Thankfully I have a talented team of journalists beside me to make it all possible.

    The most important part of our process is finding the right story. Not every story can be a video and not every video can be a map-video. I'm always looking for two things in a story: 1) is there a specific, narrow story that I can map? 2) If so, can I use that story to give the viewer a wider understanding of a country or region?

    Finding those stories takes a lot of reading and talking to people who live and work in these places. Then we also need to find data to build our visualizations. That means mining tons of studies and reports for maps; but also charts and tables can we can turn into a map.

    This work takes a lot of time and resources, so if you want to help me make more Vox Atlas (and help us make more videos in general), check out the Video Lab: http://bit.ly/vox-video-membership

    There's a lot more to making an Atlas video which I'm more than happy to talk about! If you have a question, just leave a comment reply here.

    -Sam

  2. John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His Beloved Son. That whosoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life.

  3. Revelation 16:12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was was dried up

    Christ is coming soon. Repent! Believe in the gospel

  4. I normally don't comment on videos but being an ancient history buff, and as a person who was born and still lives in Basra. I can't help but feel the need to thank Vox for shedding some light on the issues that are happening there. This needs to be brought to the attention of more people in the world. The atrocities that are happening there needs through a way or another some thoughtful international intervention. It's just sad, so so sad to witness how poorly a country is doing while having such rich existing and potential resources

  5. USA is a WAR crime but who is USA people or government or company or evil spirit demon or what hmm…who will take responsibility…if I say you have weapons shall bomb you to prove it or shall I wait due procedure…investigation….its all about WAR Crime…..

  6. I was born in Baghdad, any Iraqi residing outside of Iraq surely has fond memories, unfortunately I have to say this much, treasure those memories coz Iraq is no more and a distant memory, things will get worse before they get better and how much I wish I didn’t have to say this of my birth and ancestral land..

  7. That's so sad b/c it's nefarious religious groups in the US who are doing all the wars. I remember standing in the kitchen of my childhood home, as a teen, watching the Gulf War on the TV. All I could think about were the people on the receiving end of those bombs. Made me sad to be American.

  8. "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared." Rev 16:12 😮😮😮

  9. Should colab with Israel , they don’t have much water resources, they did an infrastructure project called “dew” , invest in desalting since the north neighbours r being selfish , lots of solutions just need honest governance , man iraq looked beautiful

  10. Wow. This is the first time I'm hearing that dams are actually harmful to the environment.
    Wow, the US coming in and helping bring water back to those people.

  11. Looks like the survivors in 2020 will have to march to a new refugee center , there are water keepers building new dams that will rock your world ….

  12. Rasulullah SAW bersabda, Hari Kiamat tak akan terjadi sebelum Sungai Eufrat mengering dan menyingkapkan ‘gunung emas’ yang mendorong manusia berperang. 99 dari 100 orang akan tewas (dalam pertempuran), dan setiap dari mereka berkata,  ‘Mungkin aku satu-satunya yang akan tetap hidup’. (HR Bukhari).
    Dalam riwayat lainnya, Rasulullah bersabda, Sudah dekat suatu masa di mana Sungai Eufrat akan menjadi surut airnya, lalu tertampak perbendaharaan daripada emas, maka barang siapa yang hadir di situ janganlah ia mengambil sesuatu pun daripada harta itu. (HR Bukhari Muslim).
    Imam Bukhari juga meriwayatkan hadis lainnya, Rasulullah SAW bersabda, Segera Sungai Eufrat akan memperlihatkan kekayaan (gunung) emas. Maka, siapa pun yang berada pada waktu itu tidak akan dapat mengambil apa pun darinya. Imam Abu Dawud juga meriwayatkan hadis yang sama. 
    Dalam hadis itu, Rasulullah pernah bersabda bahwa sungai yang mengalir di tiga negara besar, Turki, Suriah, dan Irak itu pada saatnya nanti akan menyingkapkan harta karun yang besar berupa gunung emas. Selain itu, dalam kitab Al-Burhan fi `Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir az-Zaman diungkapkan bahwa keringnya Sungai Eufrat merupakan saat datangnya al-Mahdi sebagai akhir zaman.
    Hadis di atas membicarakan tentang Sungai Eufrat. Dalam bahasa Arab dikenal dengan nama al-Furat atau air paling segar. Menurut Dr Syauqi Abu Khalil dalam Athlas al-Hadith al-Nabawi, Eufrat adalah sungai yang mengalir dari timur laut Turki. 
    Sungai itu membelah Pengunungan Toros, lalu melewati Suriah di Kota Jarablus, melewati Irak di Kota al-Bukmal, dan bertemu Sungai Tigris di al-Qurnah yang bermuara di Teluk Arab, ujar Dr Syauqi. Panjang sungai itu mencapai 2.375 kilometer. Dua anak sungainya, yakni Al-Balikh dan Al-Khabur, sudah mengering.

  13. 3:45
    The Arabian Gulf، it's will remain an Arab forever✌
    الخليج العربي ، سيبقى عربياً إلى الأبد✌

  14. maybe Iran should just annex Iraq maybe the people would like that ..???? or maybe Britian should re annex Iraq …???? I wonder who they would choose LOL

  15. Iraq , another American success story. Forget the Russians and the Chinese , we are the problem ! No one on earth has caused more death , destruction and suffering than the US has , no one.

  16. What a clusterfrick. those poor people, everyone's been doing their proxy wars in their backyards for years and years. Some probably dont even remember what peace and prosperity are like.

  17. يا خنازير العراق طلع بثورة للخلاص من الاحتلال الامريكي والايراني وليس من اجل الماء والكهرباء بعدما نحرره سنعيد الماء والكهرباء وكل شيء اليه

  18. Turkey is the worst country. They were like hoes when Saddam was ruling but after he died they began to cut off the water. And the lack of water also causes massive climate changes it gets fkn hottt

  19. Another problem is that the iraqi government is not controlling north iraq anymore the kurds are there. So that Iraq cannot directly discuss it with Turkey since Kurdistan(north iraq) has access to enough water.

  20. Because of Iraqi corrupted government dominated by Iranian puppits and this all because of american crusade for 0 justification and they wanted oil.

  21. The US and Saudi Arabia had it all planned out to destroy Iraq -Iraq could be a thriving country like Israel it has so much historical value in history it’s actually the holy place that’s where Abraham was born!

  22. Revelation 16:12-13 King James Version (KJV)

    12 And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.

    Repent and come to Jesus Christ we are at the end, He is coming

  23. God told me that without these 2 rivers that ușe to flow thru the Garden of Eden the whole ecosistem îs incomplete. He told me these rivers ballance the whole Earth.

  24. Why is that when its US it was an invasion by US troops but when it comes ISIS it was said that extremist and violent but in fact the consequences on Iraq and its people were the same destruction devastation poverty killings of innocent civilians civil war what was the difference then why ISIS was introduced terribly not the US however to me there’s no difference…..both were violent and extremists…..

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