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IRQ - Climate Change - 2024 - Meethak AL khatib (9)-min © Meethak AL khatib pour Action contre la Faim



Farmers in southern Iraq hit by water crisis

Farmers in the Basra region depend on the Chatt el Arab river, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet, and its freshwater canals for domestic use and to irrigate their land. But the Chatt el Arab is showing increasing levels of pollution and salinisation, while its flow is weakening year by year. Sewage discharges and industrial waste have reduced its rich ecosystem to a trickle and made its water unsafe to drink. In 2018, more than 150,000 cases of poisoning linked to the consumption of water from the Chatt el Arab were recorded in Basra. The incident sparked public outrage and nationwide protests against the lack of access to drinking water.

Active in Iraq since 2013, Action Against Hunger (ACF) supports farmers in addressing the water crisis by advocating for climate-smart farming practices, innovative technologies and water-efficient agriculture. We also help the most vulnerable farming households through the distribution of agricultural equipment and food vouchers, and prevent malnutrition through nutrition training.


A multidimensional water crisis


As a result of decades of conflict, poor environmental management, lack of maintenance of irrigation canals, dependence on neighbours for water resources and accelerating climate change, water has become a scarce commodity in Iraq.

Levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have fallen by 30% since the 1980s and are expected to fall by a further 50% by 2030, mainly as a result of the construction of dams in neighbouring countries. These are alarming figures, given that rivers account for more than 90% of the country’s freshwater reserves.

The depletion of water resources is exacerbated by the unregulated use of water by consumers, water-intensive irrigation practices and the climate crisis. Increasingly, heat waves are enveloping Iraq, suffocating its population in temperatures that can reach 50 degrees Celsius. By 2050, the country’s average annual temperature is set to rise by 2 degrees and average annual rainfall is set to fall by 9%. If rainfall or vegetation decreases, the top layers of soil become less compact, increasing the likelihood of sandstorms and further desertification.

The agricultural sector, which alone accounts for 60-80% of total use of water resources, has been hit hard by the water crisis. This is threatening food security and increasing the country’s dependence on food imports at a time when the Iraqi dinar has been heavily devalued. While the Basra region produces the majority of Iraq’s oil, the most vulnerable communities depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In the absence of government support, farmers sometimes have to rely solely on themselves and on humanitarian aid to provide for their families.


Water scarcity, a breeding ground for food insecurity


In the north of Basra, in the district of Al-Qurna, Oum Ali (mother of Ali, her eldest son’s first name), Sabreen by birth, grows sidr, also known as jujube, with her husband Ali during the winter and dates during the summer months. Supported by Action Against Hunger (ACF), the family has received farming equipment such as organic fertilisers, gardening kits and tools to cultivate their plots.

Sabreen has been a farmer since childhood and has always lived in a small community in Al-Qurna. Like her sister, she never attended school and regrets not knowing how to read or write. Despite this, her job means a lot to her. “I started farming with my family when I was 9. I feel that this land is like one of my children. I feel it’s part of me“, she confides, looking proudly at the palm trees covered in ochre dust.

IRQ - Climate Change - 2024 - Meethak AL khatib (2)-min © Meethak AL khatib pour Action contre la Faim
IRQ - Climate Change - 2024 - Meethak AL khatib (9) (1)-min © Meethak AL khatib pour Action contre la Faim
IRQ - Climate Change - 2024 - Meethak AL khatib (6)-min © Meethak AL khatib pour Action contre la Faim


The reduction in freshwater flows in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the decline in rainfall have led to seawater intrusion into the Shatt el-Arab, harming crops, animals and people. Near the freshwater canal upstream from her farm, Sabreen brings her hand to her mouth and mimes tasting the water, smiling. It is a ritual that has to be performed before opening the valves that allow the land to be flooded.

If the water is too salty, she needs to be patient and repeat the exercise the following week, because irrigating with salt water sterilises the soil and eradicates plants. “When we plant crops, they die before the end of the season because of the salinity and the lack of suitable farming equipment,” says Sabreen. “The situation has improved recently, but the period between winter and summer is always more difficult. My husband works elsewhere to supplement our income, but it is often insufficient to meet all our needs, particularly medical expenses“, she explains.

At national level, the water crisis has led to a drop in agricultural yields, which is affecting farmers’ livelihoods. According to the Iraqi Federation of Agricultural Associations, 50% of farmers are already living below the poverty line, while 40% have had to give up their profession to find other sources of income. Against this backdrop, some farming households are being forced to opt for negative coping strategies such as going into debt, buying cheaper, less nutritious food or reducing the number of meals per day. As food prices rise, it is not uncommon for families to have to eat less and eat less well.

To find out more about the importance of a healthy, balanced diet, Sabreen and her husband Ali attend nutrition training courses organised by Action Against Hunger (ACF) with their son Ali, who suffers from a chronic illness. Bringing together around 20 women and men from several villages in northern Basra, these training sessions have already raised awareness among almost 300 people affected by climate change and nutrition issues. The aim of these sessions, in which the majority of participants are farmers, is also to involve more women in the household decision-making process.

Few women are made aware of the importance of nutrition when they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Yet they are particularly exposed to the risk of anaemia or vitamin D deficiency, which can affect the growth and development of children. Many women give their children water for the first six months, or water with medicines, without consulting a doctor, which can have irreversible consequences“, explains Dania Al-Qaisi, doctor and nutrition trainer for Action Against Hunger (ACF).


IRQ - Nut & Health - 2024 - Meethak AL khatib (6)-min © Meethak AL khatib pour Action contre la Faim
IRQ - Nut & Health - 2024 - Meethak AL khatib (4)-min © Meethak AL khatib pour Action contre la Faim


Rethinking agricultural practices to better cope with water scarcity


Promoting a change in irrigation practices and modernising the agricultural sector are essential to meet the challenges of water scarcity in Iraq. As part of its local water management strategy and in collaboration with Responsive Drip Irrigation (RDI), Action Against Hunger (ACF) carried out a pilot project on three farms in the districts of Al-Qurna and Al-Dair, in the Basra region. Participating farmers were trained and their fields equipped with a reactive drip irrigation system. 

Adil Lazim is a member of a farmers’ association and lives with his nine children and wife in the district of Al-Dair. A former soldier, he has now turned to farming and has always lived in this district to the north of Basra. His agricultural production has been considerably affected by a succession of climatic shocks. In 2018, his land and that of many farmers in the region suffered from salinisation of the soil, while in 2019, floods completely submerged the land and destroyed crops. But lately, water scarcity became his main concern.


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IRQ - WASH - 2024 - Meethak AL khatib (1) (2)-min © Meethak AL khatib pour Action contre la Faim
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IRQ - WASH - 2024 - Meethak AL khatib (8)-min © Meethak AL khatib pour Action contre la Faim


When the water level drops, we are worried because the drought is likely to last for a long time. We think the worst. Sometimes we have no water for the land for 10 days or more. When this happens, of course we think of giving up farming, but we have nothing else to do” laments Adil. Because of the drop in his agricultural yields, Adil has sometimes had to work in the informal sector or resort to debt to feed his family.

Thanks to the reactive drip irrigation system, the plants regulate their own water supply, saving water and producing more compared with other irrigation methods such as surface irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, underground irrigation and standard drip irrigation. The reactive drip irrigation system consumes around 758 litres per day for 450 square metres of land, while traditional flood irrigation consumes 2,270 litres.

The system makes it easier to irrigate crops and means I can produce more and better than before. Today my production has doubled,” explains Adil. With this system, there’s always a water tank ready to go, with a valve that I’ve currently closed. I open it when the water runs out ». Other agricultural practices have borne fruit, such as standard drip irrigation and the production of organic compost, which improves the quality of the soil and limits water evaporation.

Jawad Jabar is Multi-sectoral manager for food security and livelihoods and water, hygiene and sanitation for Action Against Hunger. Originally from Basra, he remembers palm trees stretching as far as the eye could see and the rain that often fell in winter when he was a child. But for him, there is no question of giving in to fatalism.  “Simple, accessible solutions exist to support farmers. They just require a change in traditional farming practices, more financial investment and greater involvement of local and national authorities to scale up,” concludes Jawad.

In southern Iraq, Action Against Hunger will continue to support farming households by working to strengthen water management and promote sustainable livelihoods to mitigate the multifaceted impacts of climate change. In 2023, 4,906 people benefited from food security and livelihoods programmes and 36,714 from water, hygiene and sanitation programmes in Iraq.



[1] Azzam Alwash et al., “Towards Sustainable Water Resources Management in Iraq,” Iraq Energy Institute (blog), August 30, 2018, https://; Mustafa Habib, “Iraq’s Lack of Water ‘Is a Foreign Policy Problem,’” Iraqi-Business News (blog), February 24, 2018,



[4] الفقر إلى مستويات قياسية في شمال غرب سورية (


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