Rain erases Iraq’s crippling drought - GulfToday

Rain erases Iraq’s crippling drought

Iraqi-farm

A woman works on her farm in Youssifiyah, Iraq. Associated Press

After years of meager rains and scorching summers, the wettest winter in a generation has revived Iraq’s famous rivers and filled its lakes, bringing welcome relief to a country facing severe water challenges in the era of climate change.

The rains have restored freshwater marshes of southern Iraq - a region some scholars see as the biblical Garden of Eden - and transformed lands once parched for water into fields of grain and cereal.

But the deluge has also tested a country more familiar with droughts than downpours and raised questions about whether Iraq’s 20th century infrastructure can adapt to an unpredictable, 21st century climate.

Swelled by local rains and snowmelt from Turkey and Iran, both the Tigris and Euphrates and their many tributaries burst their banks and flooded plains and cities in Iraq, despite the country’s considerable networks of dams and canals. And despite a trend toward a hotter and drier climate, an unseasonably chilly April and high humidity damaged crops on the farmlands around Baghdad.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called it imperative to revamp infrastructure and water policies to prepare for more extreme weather events, though the rains this year pose a policy dilemma as unpredictable climate stresses may lead to both droughts and floods.

“This will be a very important lesson for us in the next year, and the coming years,” Abdul-Mahdi told a press conference in April Outside the town of Buhriz in eastern Diyala province, where Sirwan River flows into Iraq from neighboring Iran, Nouri Kudaier waded through his waterlogged citrus grove to see what he could salvage of this season’s harvest.

“We’re asking for compensation from the government for the damage,” Kudaier said. “It’s our only source of livelihood.”

Iraq has not seen as much precipitation in a single winter since 1988, according to the Ministry of Water Resources, which reported 47 billion cubic meters of water in the country’s reservoirs.

That’s three times what was there at the same time last year, when water levels were so dire that the government banned farmers from growing seasonal crops during the summer months.

 Associated Press