Iraq is currently facing a multifaceted water crisis that could have numerous implications at humanitarian, economic, security and social levels, including population movements. In July 2019, IOM Iraq identified 21,314 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Southern and Central governorates displaced due to the lack of water associated with high salinity content and/or outbreaks of waterborne diseases in both urban and rural communities.


Father and son fishermen in an Iraqi wetland. Source: International Organisation for Migration


Iraq’s water crisis is expected to persist. Intake from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers—the country’s primary sources of water—are decreasing at an unprecedented rate because of high build-up of hydraulic infrastructure upstream, outside of Iraq’s borders. Increasing average temperatures and decreasing annual rainfall due to climate change further challenge the entire region. The risk of water-induced displacement of populations in Iraq therefore remains high due to degrading water availability in both quantity and quality.


Hydrometric, hydrological and water quality data (total dissolved solids and bacteriological) fused with a unique prototype Human Response Model are tested under two precipitation scenarios—factoring in climate change—and two water-management scenarios: water demand for irrigation and wastewater treatment efficiency. This unique model’s purpose is to anticipate trends of internal displacement of populations in terms of time, location and severity.


The water system functioning of the Euphrates and Tigris basin is built using open datasets. IDP data was collected on the ground by IOM Iraq. The scenario results show that water quality is constantly decreasing and illustrate the exceptional level of water salinity in the Tigris and Euphrates, which could trigger further displacement, especially in the southernmost provinces and along the Tigris and  Euphrates Rivers and the Shat-al-Arab area.


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


Webtool Development

The Iraq Water Crisis and Displacement Risk webtool is organised in three tabs:

  • Baseline Scenario estimates past water availability, water quality and internal displacement in southern and central Iraq from 1999 to 2018. These are modelled results that were compared to and calibrated with available historical field data such as river discharge, salinity levels and the number of IDPs. Baseline Scenario therefore forms the most reliable control model from which we can predict the efficiency of alternative Water Management Scenarios as well as the impact of future Climate Risk Scenarios.
  • Water Management Scenario measures alternative levels of water availability, water quality and internal displacement risk between 1999 and 2018 by modelling hypothetical modifications to existing water treatment infrastructure and irrigation levels in Iraq or transboundary water levels in upstream countries.
  • Climate Risk Scenario predicts future levels of water availability, water quality and internal displacement through 2048 in two potential scenarios of climate change. Both scenarios are based on the same increase in greenhouse effect (RCP 8.5) but, as they use two different Global Climate Models, each leads to a different change in temperature.