Iraq is currently experiencing its second driest season in 40 years due to record low rainfall. Since the 1980s, water flows from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which provide up to 98% of Iraq’s surface water, have decreased by 30%.  This water flow is expected to decline even further by 50% and 25% respectively by 2025.  Alongside rivers, groundwater is the second most important supply of water, albeit it being underutilized. Groundwater is expected to also decline significantly due to increased salinization.  Regarding Iraq’s overall water supply, this is expected to decrease by up to 60% by 2025 in comparison to 2015.  The significant decline of the country’s water supply can be attributed in part to the construction of dams, reservoirs and irrigation projects by Iraq’s upstream neighboring countries. However, water management practices within Iraq have also had a critical impact on the quantity and quality of water, subsequently resulting in various types of conflict. By addressing water challenges within its borders, Iraq has the opportunity to improve its water situation, mitigate water-related conflicts more effectively, and become more resilient against future water-related shocks.

Iraq boat

WPS involvement

The Water, Peace, & Security (WPS) partnership is working to turn the current vicious water-conflict cycle into a more virtuous water-peace cycle in Iraq by:

  • Developing data-driven dashboards to support stakeholders in addressing local water-security-related questions
  • Delivering training modules and workshops that focus on the different elements of the water-security nexus
  • Supporting dialogues with Iraqi stakeholders at the local, provincial and national levels

WPS has produced several outputs, ranging from stakeholder mappings to working papers on the water situation in Iraq, the impacts of COVID-19 on water and conflict in Iraq, and an in-depth analysis of water-related challenges and conflict dynamics in four southern Iraqi provinces. This in-depth analysis is one of our recently published outputs that sheds light on the link between water and conflict in Iraq at the interprovincial, provincial, and local levels in the provinces Basra, Missan, Dhi Qar, and Wasit in the south of Iraq WPS developed the Water Crisis Risk Webtool with key findings and insights on the links between water and displacement, summarized in the Policy Report.  

In order to come to a shared assessment of water-related problems and solutions, WPS is also undertaking an interactive, iterative process with Iraqi partners and communities. Through this local engagement, participatory activities are informed by available data and information (qualitative and quantitative) and in turn provide input for improvements in models, tools and analyses used to support local decision-making focused on specific questions and needs.

WPS Iraq engagement focuses on the provinces highlighted in darker blue: Wasit, Missan, Dhi-Qar and Basrah.

Next steps

WPS is currently refining the aforementioned Webtool in order to provide information on how broader changes in the water system in southern Iraq impact the societal system and to facilitate the analysis of potential solutions. We have also constructed an Agent-Based Model to obtain insights into the mechanisms of water-related migration based on specific factors. Next steps for this model aim to show the causal relations between the water and societal systems. 

Looking forward, WPS intends to focus on intensifying our engagement in Iraq at the community and local levels. Specifically, we will focus on tribal dynamics and their impact on the Iraqi water-conflict nexus. This work will be conducted with partners and organizations active in southern Iraq who will support us in data collection, capacity development and dialogue activities. In early 2022, we aim to complete two training sessions with Iraqi national- and provincial-level policy and decision-makers as well as a participatory workshop.

Reed harvesting alongside a canal in the Iraqi marshes. Source: International Organisation for Migration


Laura Birkman
Senior Strategic Analyst | Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)
Irina Patrahau
Strategic Analyst | Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)