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Climate Change Brings Severe Drought, Soaring Temperatures to War-Torn Iraq

After years of being devastated by war, Iraq faces increased climate stress in a hotter, drier future, according to a stark report released recently by the Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks.

“It’s been invaded and bombed, had a third of its territory taken over by terrorist groups, hundreds of thousands have been killed, and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed,” Climate News Network reports. “Now Iraq and its 39 million people are facing the hazards of climate change. A prolonged drought and soaring temperatures earlier this year ruined crops. Swaths of land in what was, in ancient times, one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth are drying up and turning into desert.”

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries,” the report states. “Climate change is currently manifesting itself in prolonged heat waves, erratic precipitation, higher than average temperatures, and increased disaster intensity.” And already today, “the combination of its hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures, and extreme weather events puts pressure on basic resources and undermines livelihood security for Iraq’s population.”

The country has just suffered its worst drought in 80 years, with water flow in many rivers down by as much as 40% in recent decades. And “the “outlook is grim,” Climate News Net notes. “The study says that due to climate change, average rainfall across the country is likely to decrease by 9% by mid-century, though the intensity of storms is set to increase. Temperatures in Iraq, which regularly reach more than 40°C in the summer months, are set to rise further—by an average of 2°C by 2050.

The climate disaster in Iraq has been unfolding in tandem with factors that make the impacts worse, including misuse of upriver water resources, and damming in both Iran and Turkey that have triggered severely reduced water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, explains Climate News Net’s Kieran Cooke.

As water levels have plummeted, salinity has increased dramatically, particularly in the south of the country, due to evaporation and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf,” he writes. “Often, because of salinity and pollution, there is little or no drinkable tap water in Basra, a city of more than two million.”

The security risks working group also points to poor governance and official corruption as a compounding factor that “severely reduces the Iraqi government’s capacity to address security risks and stabilization strategies, including those relating to climate change”.