Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in Sirwan River flow

A part of Sirwan River has dried up in Halabja province

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Iraqi officials warned on Tuesday of a drastic drop in the flow of water in Sirwan River from Iran due to low rainfall and dam-building in the neighboring country.

The river which begins in Iran flows to Darbandikhan Dam in the Kurdistan Region before going through the province of Diyala and joining the Tigris.

“There has been an unprecedented decline,” Darbandikhan Dam Director Rahman Khani told AFP.

“The water level has fallen by 7.5 meters in one year.”

Khani said the decrease in the water level attributed to low precipitation and the building of “more dams in Iran which retain water.”

He further said the dam had received 900 million cubic meters of water this year — a fraction of the annual average of 4.7 billion cubic meters, according to AFP.

The drop had led to a 30 percent fall in electricity production from the dam, the official added, warning against the impact on agriculture in Diyala province.

Iraq, which relies on Iran for much of its electricity, has suffered extreme water shortages in many areas in recent years.

This is owing in large part to upstream dam-building in Iran and Turkey, but also to factors relating to climate change and droughts, which have affected the wider region.

Iraq is mostly desert. Its inhabitable areas are fed by the Tigris from Turkey, the Euphrates from Turkey and Syria, and a network of rivers from Iran.

Earlier this month, the Iraqi ministry of agriculture said it would reduce its 2021-2022 winter crop planting area by 50% due to the water shortage.

The available water in dams and reservoirs can only irrigate around 250,000 hectares of land, the ministry said in a statement.

Iran’s restriction of water flow to Iraq has prompted Iraq’s Water Resources Minister Mahdi al-Hamdani to call on his government to file a complaint against Tehran at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

AFP cited Aoun Thiab, a senior adviser at the water ministry, as saying that Iran was “violating international law by diverting a river flow” based on the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention on the use of water that crosses international borders.

Thiab acknowledged however that seeking justice would be “a political decision and not a technical one”.

“The waters of the Sirwan river have been completely cut off,” he told AFP.

Iran has also its own decline in water levels due to drought, said a report from the country’s space agency cited by Mehr news agency, according to AFP.

On Tuesday, an official said Tehran was facing its worst drought in 50 years as he reported a 97 percent drop in monthly rainfall compared with last year.

The Iranian capital has had 0.4 millimeters of rain since September 23, compared with 14.3 mm over the same period in 2020, said Mohammad Shahriari, deputy director of the company that supplies the region.

“Groundwater and surface water are at a critical state and there has not been a similar drought for the past 50 years,” he was quoted as saying by Iran’s ISNA news agency.

In July, deadly protests broke out in the drought-hit southwestern province of Khuzestan after people took to the streets to vent their anger over water shortages.

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