UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk concluded his visit to Iraq on Wednesday, and warned that Iraq’s water crisis may cause wider regional implications that require actions from all countries to manage water resources as a global public good. His visit marked the first time a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Iraq.
Water scarcity has been a long-standing issue in Iraq due to climate change and government mismanagement. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported about Iraq’s water shortage in 2019, citing government mismanagement as one of the major reasons for the full-blown crisis in 2018. The series of mismanagement include poor management of upstream water sources, inadequate regulation of pollution and sewage, and chronic neglect and mismanagement of water infrastructure.
Despite the protests that stemmed from the full-blown water crisis, droughts persist in Iraq. In 2021, UNICEF reported that 60 percent of Iraqi children do not have access to safely managed water services and less than half of all schools in the country have access to water. On Tuesday, the Iraqi Minister of Water Resources also announced that water levels in Iraq are the lowest they have ever been. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also observed that 13 villages in Al Hadam have been displaced due to water scarcity. The IOM also recorded over 20,000 climate migrants in Iraq at the end of 2021.
Türk noted the Iraqi government’s commitment to address the challenges of climate change and water scarcity. However, he also highlighted the government’s oppression of journalism and civil society actors hinders the government’s work in awareness raising, legislative and policy reform, and capacity building of institutions. Türk also provided notice that the UN would soon release their report on freedom of expression in Iraq.
Apart from the Iraqi government, other international organizations have been working on the Iraqi water crisis simultaneously. For instance, environmental migration has been a key objective of the IOM. In 2022, IOM Iraq enlisted the company Rawabi al-Kadhumia to restore the water pump for use and recovered water supplies to two villages in Al Hadam.