Once the heart of the Fertile Crescent, Iraq’s water stress has been steadily worsening since the 1980s, reaching crisis levels in the past decade. Droughts are increasingly frequent and severe, meaning there is less rainfall, and groundwater supplies do not refill as quickly. It also means that surface water flow in the two main rivers in Iraq, the Euphrates and the Tigris, is significantly reduced – also due to the construction of dams by Iraq’s upstream neighbours.

Water management practices within Iraq have also had a critical impact on the quantity and quality of water, contributing to conflict and instability at various levels. In the south of Iraq, water scarcity contributes to rural displacement, conflicts between tribes, as well as anti-government protests and clashes with law enforcement; at the governmental level, resentment over water allocation causes friction between provinces and the national government. By addressing water-related 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.

Map Iraq

WPS is active in four governorates in southern Iraq: Dhi Qar, Wasit, Missan, and Basra.

WPS involvement

WPS is active in four governorates in southern Iraq – Dhi Qar, Wasit, Missan, and Basra – at three levels: local, provincial, and national. We organise participatory workshops and trainings to build awareness and shared ​understanding of water-related security risks, which also contribute to our modelling analysis through the production of Causal Loop Diagrams. These workshops are complemented by the provision of support for dialogue forums and the organization of focus groups, which give stakeholders a platform to exchange ideas. While these activities are important in equipping all members of society to take action on the water-conflict nexus, including policymakers, they are also building towards a policy roundtable where we aim for local needs to be incorporated into water governance decisions.

WPS has also been active in mobilising and supporting local & international organisations to engage on the water-security nexus; notably, we have supported organisations like Mercy Corps and the IFRC, and have presented at several high-profile conferences such as the COP28 and UN Water Week, as well as being a regular fixture at the Baghdad International Water Conference.

On top of several in-depth, subject-specific reports, WPS has developed tools to aid policymakers in addressing water-induced conflict in Iraq:

  • The Agent-Based and Human Response Models, based on participatory research with local communities mentioned above, to better understand how people react and adapt to water stress. These will soon become publicly available in the form of a policy dashboard.
  • Causal Models, a statistical modelling method which identifies which subdistricts in Iraq are most vulnerable to water-induced conflict and which factors fuel that conflict. They can help policymakers decide where and how to intervene to prevent or mitigate conflict.
WPS supports the organisation of dialogue forums in southern Iraq
WPS supports the organisation of dialogue fora in southern Iraq.

Next steps

1. Elevating local perspectives and supporting action by policymakers

After having completed activities aimed at building a shared diagnosis of water-related problems over the last years, WPS is moving towards finding collaborative policy solutions. We are supporting the organization of dialogue sessions within and between provinces in the south, as a forum for local representatives to discuss policy priorities and options. Based on this local and provincial engagement, as well as expert interviews and our own research, we are planning a policy roundtable in Autumn 2024; at this roundtable, provincial authorities from Dhi Qar, Wasit, Missan, and Basra will come together to discuss collaborative water governance opportunities in southern Iraq​.

2. Ensuring our work becomes publicly accessible and usable

We are currently developing public versions of our policy dashboard and data-driven causal models, with an accompanying explanatory policy brief, as well as preparing the distribution of narrative videos that highlight local perspectives on water scarcity in Iraq. We are also developing a policy brief on our engagement model to share our lessons and best practices with other organisations.

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)