October 11, 2003

In the habitation of dragons...

And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: In the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
--Isaiah 35-7

I hadn't heard anything about the Marsh Arabs lately, so I was pleased to see this article (via Sullivan). It is heartwarming to read about how they are starting to recover their ancient way of life.

But is also the first time I've seen some specific numbers on the amount of water available. Living in the west, where water politics is the touchiest of problems, I can just feel the painful conflicts ahead...

....Shaheen calculated that more than 1 quadrillion gallons -- a 1 followed by 15 zeroes -- were needed to fill the Euphrates side of the marshes. But the flow at Nasiriyah, which had been 106,000 gallons per second before 1991, was down to 21,000 gallons per second because of new dams and irrigation canals built in Iraq, Syria and Turkey over the past decade. "The water we have is not enough," he said.

By midsummer, the water's advance had slowed. Villages just a few miles east of Zayad are still dry, with residents wondering when they will be able to ride a mashoof again.

If the flow does not increase, Shaheen predicted it will take more than 100 years to flood the marshes. "It's not an issue of opening the gates and dams over here," he said. "We need more water from upstream."

Iraq's new minister of water resources, Latif Rashid, said increasing the flow will require Syria and Turkey to reduce their consumption. "We'd like our just share," he said. "They should respect our needs."

Shaheen and other Iraqi water experts said they believe Hussein told Syria and Turkey to take as much water as they pleased -- a policy that many say now needs to be reversed. Compared to the mid-1980s, the volume of water flowing into Iraq through the Euphrates has fallen 50 percent, according to the Water Ministry....

I suspect the re-negotiations coming up will make the "odious debt" issue look easy to solve.

Posted by John Weidner at October 11, 2003 8:23 AM
Weblog by John Weidner