Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events

All along the banks of the once mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years. (AN Photos/Kareem Botane)
All along the banks of the once mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years. (AN Photos/Kareem Botane)
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Updated 11 March 2022

Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events

All along the banks of the once mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years. (AN Photos/Kareem Botane)
  • Once flourishing communities along Tigris River face existential crisis as high temperatures become the norm
  • Iraq’s President Barham Salih says climate change is by far the most serious long-term threat facing the country

MOSUL / BOGOTA: Caked in the fine yellow dust kicked up by his tractor-drawn planter, Farman Noori Latif jumps down to survey his work. He has spent the morning sowing wheat seed on his farm near the banks of the Tigris River, just south of Mosul in northern Iraq.

It is late in the season to be sowing wheat, but the 30-year-old has been holding out for a much-needed spell of autumn rain. The earth might still be parched under the baking sun but it is now or never if he wants his crops in the ground before winter sets in.

“Today is November 2 and the weather is hot. It shouldn’t be like this,” Latif told Arab News as he inspected the soil he and his family have farmed for four generations. “We are supposed to have this weather in September, not now.”

 

Latif is not alone in fighting a losing battle against the elements. The UN Environment Program’s sixth Global Environmental Outlook report, published in 2019, ranked Iraq fifth on the list of countries most vulnerable in terms of water and food availability and extreme temperatures.

All along the banks of the once mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years, forcing many among the rural population to abandon the land in search of work in the cities.

“We have lost everything due to the lack of rain and the hot weather,” Ameer Khthr Yousif, a 30-year-old farmer and fisherman selling his catch on a Qayyarah roadside, told Arab News.

“We farmers depend on the Tigris River for our agriculture. If the situation continues, everyone here will leave farming to find other sources of income.”

Average temperatures in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, and extreme heat events are becoming more frequent. According to the World Bank, mean annual temperatures in Iraq are expected to rise by 2 C by 2050, and mean annual rainfall to decrease by 9 percent.

Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years, according to the UN, leaving the country’s aquifers unreplenished and raising the salinity of the remaining groundwater.

“The groundwater has dried out here,” Latif said. “I have a well that is 30 meters deep without any water in it. All the wells here have dried out. Even if there is water in any of these wells, it will be red in color or salty.”




Hazim Mahamad Ebrahim, 60, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Soil degradation is causing dust storms to increase in scale and frequency. Between 1951 and 1990, Iraq experienced an average of 24 days a year with dust storms. In 2013, there were 122, according to the UN.

In an op-ed for the Financial Times, published on Oct. 31 to coincide with the start of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Iraq’s President Barham Salih said the economic and environmental effects of climate change are “by far the most serious long-term threat” facing the country.

“Very high temperatures are becoming more common, drought more frequent and dust storms more intense,” Salih said. “Desertification affects 39 percent of Iraq’s territory and increased salinization threatens agriculture on 54 percent of our land.”

Neighboring countries are also experiencing more frequent droughts and rising temperatures, leading to regional water disputes. Iraq’s water ministry said this year that water flows from Iran and Turkey had fallen by 50 percent during the summer.

“Dams on the headwaters and tributaries of the historic Tigris and Euphrates Rivers — the lifeblood of our country — have reduced water flow, leading to shortages,” Salih said. “According to Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources, our country could face a shortfall of as much as 10.8 billion cubic meters of water annually by 2035.”




Farman Noori Latif, 30, a farmer and contractor from the village of Muhssin, Qarach area, Makhmur, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Salih said he is all too aware of the threat climate change poses to a country utterly reliant on oil revenues, whose booming youth population is simmering with pent-up frustration.

“Iraq’s population is projected to double from 40 million people today to 80 million by 2050, just as our income, largely based on oil production, will be drastically reduced as a result of the world abandoning fossil fuels as it moves to sustainable, clean energy,” he said.

“The loss of income may very well result in migration to cities whose infrastructure is even now incapable of supporting the existing population. This migration may well result in extremism and insecurity as young people are unable to find jobs that give them a decent standard of living.”

FASTFACTS

* Average temps. in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees since 1921.

* Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years.

* In 2013, Iraq experienced at least 122 days with dust storms.

Mohammed Abdullah Ibrahim, who has farmed his patch of land in Qayyarah for decades, said he has seen dramatic changes in the climate during his lifetime.

“I have been a farmer since the 1970s and I have never seen it this bad before,” the 64-year-old told Arab News.

Water shortages have forced local farmers to abandon many of the water-intensive fruit and vegetable crops once grown here. Among those that still grow, yields have halved, said Ibrahim.

“Before, it was sufficient,” he added. “You could grow enough and make a profit. In the past, we were employed only in farming; we did not need a job or salaries. But things have changed now. We have to find another job to make a living.

“If the situation continues like this, we will be entering a very dark future. The young generation will end up unemployed.”

Ibrahim’s neighbor, Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, has also observed a significant change in the local climate. “The heat wave we had last year, we have never had it like that before,” he told Arab News. “I am 56 years old; I have never experienced heat like that in my life.




Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, 56, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. Credit: (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

“I know many farmers who have left their land and given up on farming. If the situation continues, I am afraid we will all move to the cities and leave farming behind, migrating from the villages because there will be nothing left for us to stay for.”

It is not only arable crop farmers who are struggling in the fierce heat. Sparse pasture, limited fodder and a shortage of fresh water have forced livestock farmers to sell or even cull their animals.

“Our animals have begun dying due to drought and the lack of rain,” Jamal Ali, a 49-year-old shepherd from Makhmur, told Arab News.

“Animals are very expensive these days. We have to buy fodder for our sheep and cows because our land cannot produce enough food for them due to the late rainy season and drought. We had to sell our sheep in order to compensate (for the loss). We have lost 50 percent of our income from animals and farming due to climate change.”

Dehydration has led to serious veterinary health problems among livestock, affecting their reproductive health.

“The changing climate has created many diseases among the animals,” said Ali. “The most common is birth defects. It is all due to the lack of rain and water.”




Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, 51, a farmer and mayor of Hoot Al-Foqani, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, mayor of the Qayyarah village of Hoot Al-Foqani, said the federal government in Baghdad has done little to subsidize farming and help prevent climate-induced rural displacement.

“We have lost more than 100,000 hectares of land due to the lack of rain and water. We have fewer animals compared to before, especially sheep,” he said.

“About 50 or 60 farmers have left here so far. We need support from international organizations as we already know that the government has limited capabilities. We hope they can do something for us, otherwise the number of animals and farmers will decline in the coming years.”

Although the Iraqi government has launched a UN-backed National Adaptation Plan to improve the country’s resilience to climate change, few of the benefits have trickled down to sun-scorched farming communities along the Tigris.

Kneeling in the powdery earth to uproot a spindly yellow plant, Latif said Iraq’s farmers urgently need outside help if their way of life is to survive the relentlessly changing weather patterns.

“We have lost our hope in the Iraqi government; we want foreign countries to help us,” he said. “We do not have any other means of making a living. Farming is our only hope and without it I cannot imagine how it will be.”

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Twitter: @kareem_botane / @RobertPEdwards


Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes: Palestinian ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Updated 7 sec ago

Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes: Palestinian ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
  • Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces early Saturday during a raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
“A 17-year-old boy was killed, and an 18-year-old was critically wounded by the Israeli occupation’s bullets during its aggression on Jenin,” a statement by the health ministry said.
Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed.
Thirteen Palestinians were injured last week during an operation by Israeli forces in the camp in which one Israeli commando and one Palestinian were also killed.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett named the Israeli commando as Noam Raz.
The Palestinian was later named as Daoud Al-Zubaidi, a brother of Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, who headed the armed wing of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and briefly escaped from Israeli prison last year.
The raids came hours before violence erupted at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed last week while covering another Israeli raid on the camp.
As her funeral unfolded, Israeli police stormed the grounds of a Jerusalem hospital as the body of the slain journalist was being transported for burial, prompting an international outcry.
 


Syria intercepts Israeli missile attack: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Syria intercepts Israeli missile attack: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
  • Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah

DAMASCUS: Syrian air defenses intercepted Israeli missile strikes near Damascus, state media reported on Friday.
“Our air defenses stopped a number of hostile missiles in the airspace of the southern countryside of Damascus,” Syria’s official news agency SANA said.
AFP correspondents in the Syrian capital said they heard very loud noises in the evening.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that the target of the Israeli strikes were Iranian bases near Damascus.
The latest strike follows one on May 14 that killed five soldiers and another one on April 27 which, according to the Observatory, killed 10 combatants, among them six Syrian soldiers, in the deadliest such raid since the start of 2022.
Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged mounting hundreds of them.
The Israeli military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.

 


Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties
Updated 20 May 2022

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties
  • On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic"
  • Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue"

TUNIS: Tunisia's President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a "new republic", through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.
On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, sidelining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
He has since vowed to scrap the country's 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to referendum in July, but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.
On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic", charged with drawing up a draft constitution.
Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary and on national dialogue.
While major organisations including the powerful UGTT trade union confederation are supposed to be involved, no political party is set to take part.
Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue" -- at the same time attacking the political parties he accuses of having plundered the country.
Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country's major actors.


Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
  • The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust

PARIS: Sandstorms have engulfed the Middle East in recent days, in a phenomenon experts warn could proliferate because of climate change, putting human health at grave risk.
At least 4,000 people went to hospitals on Monday for respiratory issues in Iraq where eight sandstorms have blanketed the country since mid-April.
That was on top of the more than 5,000 treated in Iraqi hospitals for similar respiratory ailments earlier this month.
The phenomenon has also smothered Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE with more feared in the coming days.
Strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust into the atmosphere, that can then travel hundreds, even thousands, of kilometers.
Sandstorms have affected a total of 150 countries and regions, adversely impacting on the environment, health and the economy, the World Meteorological Organization said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The UN agency WMO has warned of the ‘serious risks’ posed by airborne dust.

• The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments.

• They also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.

“It’s a phenomenon that is both local and global, with a stronger intensity in areas of origin,” said Carlos Perez Garcia-Pando, a sand and dust storm expert at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies.
The storms originate in dry or semi-dry regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China.
Other less affected areas include Australia, the Americas and South Africa.
The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust.
The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments, and also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.
“Dust particle size is a key determinant of potential hazard to human health,” the WMO said.
Small particles that can be smaller than 10 micrometers can often become trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, and as a result it is associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma and pneumonia.
The most at-risk are the oldest and youngest as well as those struggling with respiratory and cardiac problems.
And the most affected are residents in countries regularly battered by sandstorms, unlike in Europe where dust coming from the Sahara is rare, like the incident in March.
Depending on the weather and climate conditions, sand dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances, at times picking up bacteria, pollen, fungi and viruses.
“However, the seriousness is less than with ultrafine particles, for example from road traffic, which can penetrate the brain or the blood system,” says Thomas Bourdrel, a radiologist, researcher at the University of Strasbourg and a member of Air Health Climate collective.
Even if the sand particles are less toxic than particles produced by combustion, their “extreme density during storms causes a fairly significant increase in cardio-respiratory mortality, especially among the most vulnerable,” he said.
With “a concentration of thousands of cubic micrometers in the air, it’s almost unbreathable,” said Garcia-Pando.
The sandstorms’ frequency and intensity could worsen because of climate change, say some scientists.
But the complex phenomenon is “full of uncertainties” and is affected by a cocktail of factors like heat, wind and agricultural practices, Garcia-Pando told AFP.
“In some areas, climate change could reduce the winds that cause storms, but extreme events could persist, even rise,” he said.
With global temperatures rising, it is very likely that more and more parts of the Earth will become drier.
“This year, a significant temperature anomaly was observed in East Africa, in the Middle East, in East Asia, and this drought affects plants, a factor that can increase sandstorms,” the Spanish researcher said.


Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
Updated 20 May 2022

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
  • "The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumours that they spread and lies they tell," Guards commander Hossein Salami said
  • Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies

DUBAI: Thousands of supporters of Iran’s clerical establishment, including 50,000 Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia members, rallied on Friday, state media reported, after protests against rising food prices turned political.
“The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumors that they spread and lies they tell,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in televised remarks at the massive rally outside the capital Tehran, which marked a major victory in Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s.
Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies. On Friday, state television showed pro-government marchers chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in southwestern cities of Yasuj and Shahr-e Kord, scenes of recent protests.
Iranians took to the streets last week after a cut in food subsidies caused prices to soar by as much as 300 percent for some flour-based staples. The protests quickly turned political, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, echoing unrest in 2019 which began over fuel prices hike.
The government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings. State media reported last week the arrests of “dozens of rioters and provocateurs.”
Authorities have also arrested a number of labor union and rights activists, accusing them of contacts with foreigners, a leading rights group said on Friday.
“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Iran’s state television on Tuesday showed what it described as details of the arrest of two French citizens earlier this month, saying they were spies who had sought to stir up unrest.
France has condemned their detention as baseless and demanded their immediate release, in an incident likely to complicate ties between the countries as wider talks stall on reviving a nuclear deal.
In recent months, teachers across Iran have staged protests demanding better wages and working conditions. Dozens have been arrested.
Social media users inside Iran say Internet services have been disrupted since last week, seen as an apparent effort by authorities to stop use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. Iranian officials denied any disruption to Internet access.