IOM releases latest report on Kurdistan Region's climate, challenges

As climate impacts intensify, the KRI must prioritize sustainable practices, effective resource management, and robust community support systems to navigate the complexities of a changing climate.
The cover of the report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
The cover of the report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan24) – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has released a comprehensive Climate Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), revealing significant climate-induced problems that threaten the region's stability and prosperity.

This extensive report, based on data collected between September and December 2023, provides an in-depth analysis of the environmental challenges facing the KRI, with a particular focus on the differences within various parts of the region and comparisons with Central and Southern Iraq.

The different areas of research in this report. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
The different areas of research in this report. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

 

Escalating Temperatures and Decreasing Rainfall

Over the past few decades, Iraq has witnessed a notable rise in temperatures. Between 1970 and 2004, the average yearly temperature in Iraq increased by 1-2 degrees Celsius.

The KRI is no exception to this trend, experiencing significant warming that impacts its ecosystems and agricultural productivity. Projections indicate a further 25% reduction in rainfall by 2050, exacerbating the already severe water scarcity issues.

The World Resources Institute's Water Stress Index categorizes Iraq as having an "extremely high" baseline water stress level, underscoring the urgent need for effective water management strategies.

Environmental Hazards and Their Regional Impact

The Kurdistan Region's diverse topography, ranging from mountainous areas to fertile plains, influences the nature and severity of environmental hazards it faces.

Sand and dust storms are a prominent threat, driven by climatic changes and regional land use practices. These storms pose significant health risks and disrupt agricultural activities, particularly in the more arid parts of the region.

In contrast, Central and Southern Iraq, with its extensive desert landscape, faces different environmental challenges, including extreme heat waves and prolonged droughts.

These conditions not only threaten human health but also strain water resources and agricultural productivity.

Water Scarcity: A Critical Challenge

Water scarcity is a critical issue across Iraq, but its impacts vary between regions. In the KRI, water resources are heavily dependent on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

However, upstream water management practices in neighboring countries, particularly Turkey and Iran, are expected to reduce river flows by 50% by 2030.

This projected reduction poses a dire threat to the KRI, which already struggles with limited rainfall and high water demand.

Central and Southern Iraq, on the other hand, grapple with severe water scarcity primarily due to mismanagement and outdated irrigation practices.

The degradation of the southern marshlands, once among the world's largest wetland ecosystems, has significantly reduced water availability, impacting local biodiversity and traditional livelihoods.

Livelihoods Under Threat

The livelihoods of residents in the KRI are heavily dependent on agriculture, which is increasingly threatened by climate change. Reduced rainfall and water scarcity directly affect crop yields and livestock health, leading to economic instability.

Figure 6: Primary livelihood activities and Figure 7: Percentage of locations with climate-sensitive activities. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Figure 6: Primary livelihood activities and Figure 7: Percentage of locations with climate-sensitive activities. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

 

Farmers in the KRI are adopting unsustainable practices, such as over-extraction of groundwater, to cope with these changes, further depleting essential water reserves.

In Central and Southern Iraq, while the economy is more diversified, agricultural communities still face severe challenges due to water scarcity and soil salinity.

The decline in agricultural productivity has forced many to migrate to urban areas in search of alternative employment, contributing to urban overcrowding and increased pressure on city infrastructures.

The areas in Iraq and Kurdistan Region where IDPs are more congested. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
The areas in Iraq and Kurdistan Region where IDPs are more congested. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

 

Differences Within the Kurdistan Region

The KRI itself is not a monolithic entity; it comprises diverse sub-regions with varying climatic and environmental conditions.

For instance, the northern mountainous areas experience cooler temperatures and more precipitation compared to the central plains. However, even these relatively wetter areas are facing increasing pressure from rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns.

Different areas in Kurdistan facing three or more environmental challenges. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Different areas in Kurdistan facing three or more environmental challenges. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

 

The central plains, which include key agricultural zones, are particularly vulnerable to water scarcity and extreme weather events.

The southern parts of the KRI, closer to the central Iraqi regions, experience harsher climatic conditions, including higher temperatures and less rainfall, which compound the challenges faced by local communities.

Different areas within the Kurdistan Region facing varying degrees of drought. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Different areas within the Kurdistan Region facing varying degrees of drought. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

 

Adaptation and Coping Strategies

Communities in the KRI are employing various coping strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change. These include diversifying income sources, adopting water-saving technologies, and implementing community-based resource management practices.

Map 4: Percentage of locations experiencing a reduction in irrigation water in the last 12 months by subdistrict. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Map 4: Percentage of locations experiencing a reduction in irrigation water in the last 12 months by subdistrict. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

 

However, the effectiveness of these strategies is often limited by resource constraints and inadequate infrastructure.

In Central and Southern Iraq, adaptation efforts include the introduction of innovative irrigation techniques and drought-resistant crop varieties.

Additionally, there is a growing emphasis on restoring and managing the marshlands to improve water retention and biodiversity. However, these efforts are frequently hampered by socio-political challenges and insufficient government support.

Tensions and Conflict Potential

Climate-induced resource scarcity is contributing to increased tensions and conflict within the KRI. Competition over dwindling water resources has the potential to exacerbate existing social and political tensions, leading to localized conflicts.

The report highlights the need for cooperative water management and conflict resolution mechanisms to prevent further escalation.

In Central and Southern Iraq, the water crisis has already led to significant displacement and social unrest. Communities affected by drought and water pollution often clash with each other and with authorities over access to clean water.

The strained relationship between local populations and the government underscores the critical need for comprehensive and inclusive water management policies.

Map 5: Percentage of locations by subdistrict reporting livelihoods had been negatively affected by changes in the environment in the past 120 days
Map 5: Percentage of locations by subdistrict reporting livelihoods had been negatively affected by changes in the environment in the past 120 days

 

Recommendations for Future Action

The CVA provides several recommendations to address the vulnerabilities identified. These include:

1. Strengthening Water Management: Implementing integrated water resource management strategies to optimize the use of available water resources and improve efficiency.

2. Enhancing Agricultural Practices: Promoting sustainable agricultural practices and introducing drought-resistant crop varieties to enhance resilience.

3. Building Community Resilience: Supporting community-based initiatives that foster resilience and adaptive capacity, particularly in rural areas.

4. Policy and Governance: Strengthening regional policies and governance frameworks to ensure coordinated efforts in addressing climate risks.

5. International Cooperation: Encouraging collaboration with neighboring countries to manage shared water resources effectively and reduce regional tensions.

6. Research and Monitoring: Investing in research and monitoring systems to provide timely data and inform adaptive management strategies.

Conclusion

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq faces significant challenges due to climate change, impacting its environment, economy, and social fabric.

The findings of the CVA underscore the urgent need for comprehensive and coordinated action to build resilience and safeguard the future of the region.

As climate impacts intensify, the KRI must prioritize sustainable practices, effective resource management, and robust community support systems to navigate the complexities of a changing climate.