* Water levels in Iraqi rivers drop as drought hits
* Fishermen in Baghdad see their catches and their incomes decrease
* Iraq is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change
By Nazih Osseiran BAGDAD, November 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Every morning at sunrise, Iraqi fisherman Ahmad Hassan Lelo emerges from his hut on the banks of the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad, and every morning his heart breaks at the sight behind him.
The once mighty river that meandered past her house is now a shadow of its former self. Its running waters – depleted by devastating drought and dams, and polluted by sewage and industrial waste – have become muddy and listless. Lelo started learning his trade alongside his father when he was 8 years old, but today his main source of income comes not from fishing but from transporting people from one side of the coast to the other. river in his small boat.
“It’s been the worst year of my life,” the 56-year-old said. “The river died, and our livelihoods died with it.” Iraq, which is experiencing its worst drought in decades, is among the five countries most affected by climate change in the world and is the 39th most water-stressed country in the world, according to the United Nations.
This year has been the country’s driest since 1930, a government adviser said in late September, depleting the country’s two main rivers – the Euphrates and the Tigris – and fueling competition for water with neighboring countries. DAMS, POLLUTION
The Tigris Basin, the second largest river in West Asia after the Euphrates, is shared by four countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. There are 14 dams along its course, and irrigation and hydropower projects are putting pressure on the river’s flows, according to the Inventory of Shared Water Resources in West Asia, a report prepared by United Nations agencies. .
Iraqi officials say lower river flows from upstream neighbors Iran and Turkey – which are building dams to alleviate their own lack of water – are exacerbating local problems such as leaks, aging pipes and siphoning illegal supplies. According to a 2022 report from the University of Baghdad, growing demand for water in Baghdad, a growing city of some 8 million people, is putting additional pressure on dwindling resources, while water treatment plants are lacking.
“When the amount of water decreases, pollution increases,” said Moutaz Al-Dabbas, one of the report’s authors. Pollution from untreated sewage, including sewage and garbage dumps, poses an additional threat to fish and other wildlife in the Tigris River around Baghdad, according to the report.
In 2018, thousands of tonnes of freshwater carp – which form the basis of one of the country’s best-known dishes – ended up dead in the Euphrates due to high levels of coliform bacteria, heavy metals and ammonia in the water. “We call for the purification of all this water before it is discharged into the rivers,” al-Dabbas said.
Iraq’s Environment Ministry announced in September that it would form a committee to assess water pollution in the country. A Water Resources Ministry official did not respond to requests for comment. BAD FOR BUSINESS
At the Al-Shawakeh fish market in Baghdad, traders – many of whom are also fishermen – worry about the future of the river and their income. Baker Ali, 48, who sells fishing supplies from his shop in the middle of the market, said he recently spent eight hours on the river without catching anything.
“We were all hurt,” he said, lamenting a 90% drop in sales at his store compared to last year. “When fishermen suffer, we all suffer.” Nearby, freshly caught river fish float in improvised basins of white polystyrene boxes, destined for the city’s famous Masgouf restaurants.
Masgouf, a dish made with grilled carp, is often the first meal visitors to the country are encouraged to try. But as water levels drop, many fear the fish will disappear from the country’s rivers, replaced by less prized farmed carp.
“Last year was easier, the year before even easier,” Ali said, adding that many of his relatives had already stopped fishing. “There is no water, there are no fish.” Sadek, 53, who asked not to give his last name, comes from a fishing family but hasn’t been out on the water in almost a decade.
Sitting behind a white plastic table in his fishing supply store, he blamed environmental damage and the government’s failure to tackle the problem for his decision to abandon fishing and for the decline in its sales. “We go a whole day without selling anything,” he said. “We can no longer afford to live.”
Originally posted at: https://www.context.news/climate-risks/decline-of-the-tigris-spells-doom-for-iraqi-fishermen
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