Why Iraq’s great rivers are dying

Why Iraq’s great rivers are dying

This is the Shatt al-Arab. The river that winds through the city of Basra,
here, in Southern Iraq. It was once one of the most important waterways
in the Middle East: Here lies the great port of Basra, at the
cross-roads of the world’s trade. It fed dozens of canals throughout Basra and earned the city the nickname, The Venice of
the Middle East. It made Basra the symbol of Iraq’s growth
and prosperity. Today it’s the second largest city with over
4 million people. And with these oil fields and the only deep-water
port in the country, it’s also the economic center. About 80% of Iraq’s revenue comes from here. But this is what Basra’s canals look like
today. In the summer of 2018, they were choked with
debris, raw sewage and rotting garbage that was poisoning the city’s residents. About 100,000 people were hospitalized because
of water-related illnesses. Basra now represents a crisis that’s been
looming over Iraq for decades: The country is running
out of water. That’s because it neither controls the flow of its rivers, nor has the infrastructure to clean them. It’s standing in the way of Iraq’s recovery. “The waters of the two great rivers, Tigris and the Euphrates, are indeed the waters of life.” Almost all of Iraq’s water comes from two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. Which run down most of the country then converge here to form the Shatt al-Arab before emptying
into the Persian Gulf. Along the way these rivers provide drinking
water to these cities and irrigate farms and marshlands here. The rest of the country is mostly desert. A vast network of infrastructure is used to
generate power, distribute the water, and clean it. That includes Dams, canals, and water treatment
facilities. But this system is delicate. Anything that affects the amount of water
flowing down these rivers or the infrastructure around it can have massive consequences. Over the last few decades, both have taken a hit. Iraq relies heavily on these rivers, but it
doesn’t control them. Both rivers begin in Turkey. About 71% of Iraq’s water comes from there,
while Syria and Iran add another 10% as the rivers move south. Which means 81% of Iraq’s water is controlled
by its neighbors. And they’ve been keeping more and more of it for
themselves. Since the 1970s, Turkey has built at least
20 dams on the Euphrates and the tributaries that feed it, including the Ataturk dam – the
5th largest in the world – to provide electricity and water to its growing population. Syria has built several dams too. Both countries are holding the river hostage. Today, only a quarter of the Euphrates’ normal
flow reaches Iraq. The same thing is happening on the Tigris. Turkey is building a number of dams here,
including the Ilisu dam. When it was close to completion in 2018, it
blocked so much water that residents all the way down in Baghdad could cross the Tigris
by foot. To make matters worse, many of the tributaries
that feed the Tigris begin in Iran. And there, they’ve built 600 hundred dams
in the last 30 years and dozens are under construction. All of this means that Iraq, the furthest
country downstream, isn’t getting enough water. There’s less to drink, irrigate crops and
generate electricity. It also means the rivers are more contaminated. At a normal flow, water can dilute a lot of
the toxins and sewage that get dumped into the river. But when levels are low, these pollutants become
more potent. Plus, the weaker flow allows salt water to
move upstream from the Persian gulf – which kills fish and crops. All of this puts more pressure on Iraq’s
infrastructure to distribute and clean the water. The problem is – much of this infrastructure
has been destroyed – and Iraq hasn’t been able to rebuild it. There have been 3 devastating wars in Iraq
in the last three decades Just 2 hours ago, allied airforces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. The Gulf war began when Iraq’s ruler,
Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait – a US ally. The US led a coalition to retaliate with airstrikes. “We are determined to knock out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb potential, destroy his chemical weapons facilities. Much of Saddam’s
artillery and tanks will be destroyed. But they also bombed Iraq’s infrastructure. Including 4 hydro-electric dams. Which in turn, disabled the water treatment
facilities that relied on electricity. A sewage treatment plant in Baghdad was also
bombed – causing sewage to flow into the Tigris – poisoning the water supply for Southern
Iraq. This UN report said the war reduced [Iraq]
to the “pre-industrial age” and that the country would face a “imminent catastrophe”. Saddam survived the war, but the UN imposed strict sanctions, freezing Iraq’s bank
accounts and restricting what it could import. Including construction supplies and water
purification chemicals. Then Saddam made things even worse. In 1993, he was fighting rebels in these marshlands. Despite the post-war water crisis he weaponized
the water here by diverting the rivers away from the marshes. Over the years, this whole area was drained
– and turned into a desert. Thousands reportedly died and at least 100,000
people were forced to leave. By the early 2000s, Iraq’s water supply
continued to shrink while infrastructure failed. Thousands of Iraqi civilians had died from
water-related diseases like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Then in 2003, the US returned with a full
invasion of Iraq. This time they quickly toppled Saddam’s
regime and installed a “temporary” Iraqi government. But the invasion further damaged the country’s
infrastructure. 40% of Iraq didn’t have access to clean
water. And 70% of the sewage systems needed repair
a few months after the invasion. So the US and Iraqi governments announced
a huge reconstruction plan to rebuild infrastructure. They planned to bring safe water to about
23 million people and triple Iraq’s water treatment capacity. But by 2006 – the program only delivered safe
drinking water to over a third of the people it intended to. And Iraq’s water treatment capacity was
still an eighth of the program’s goal. Millions of dollars were lost because of mismanagement
and corruption. Reconstruction was a failure. “Meanwhile in Iraq tonight, more deadly violence in what appears to be a concerted effort to spark a new civil war there. “Inching toward a new civil war, many fear.” “Falling apart. The government is collapsing, the violence is starting. “We’re seeing all the symptoms of the civil war in Iraq starting up again.” By 2011, Iraq was still unstable when the
US pulled out its remaining troops – creating a dangerous power vacuum. Which was quickly filled by a violent extremist
group called the Islamic State. Their tactics deepened Iraq’s water crisis further. They advanced down the two rivers capturing
strategic points, taking control of Iraq’s water supply, and turning it into a weapon. Like this dam in Ramadi: “Controlling the dam, cutting the water, flow, cut supply to the pro-government towns downstream, making it easier for ISIS to attack. Water the ultimate weapon, in this blistering desert.” ISIS also poisoned water-supplies with oil,
here in the city of Tikrit. And destroyed most of this barrage in Fallujah.
By 2018, ISIS lost most of the territory it controlled, but the damage to Iraq’s water
was already done. If the country was going to recover – it had to rebuild this system, and fast. So the Iraqi government announced a massive
$100 billion dollar reconstruction effort in 2018. But by the summer, the water crisis came to
a head at the southern tip of the country, in Basra, where the river was dangerously
low and toxic. Deadly riots erupted in Basra. Government buildings were burned and many
called for the Prime Minister to resign. Despite being the economic center of Iraq,
Basra had been ignored and left to deteriorate. The Iraqi Commision of Integrity, which investigated
corruption found that: 13 water desalination plants that had been
donated to Basra in 2006 never opened. About $600 million was pledged for water projects
that were never completed. And Basra’s sewage network was supposed
to receive a multi- million dollar upgrade in 2014, but it was still leaking into the Shatt al-Arab in 2018. Despite the uproar against corruption and
lack of public infrastructure, Iraqis continue to suffer. Year after year, the water crisis has gotten
worse. And Basra, once a symbol of growth and prosperity,
has come to represent Iraq’s biggest battle ahead. If the country wants to rebuild, it first
needs to stabilize Basra. And bring clean water to its people.

100 thoughts on “Why Iraq’s great rivers are dying

  1. Thank you for watching today's Vox Atlas! I wanted to leave a note about our process since so many of you have asked. First of all, yes, Atlas takes a TON of research and reporting. Thankfully I have a talented team of journalists beside me to make it all possible.

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    There's a lot more to making an Atlas video which I'm more than happy to talk about! If you have a question, just leave a comment reply here.


  2. I think turkey has the rights to control the water that comes from its land just like how Arab countries control their oil

  3. I like Vox productions, but I wish you guys would cite the different sources, maybe in the corner for example, or with footnote numbers. It would add to quality and legitimacy.

  4. You are reporting with details about iraq and other countries just like you've lived there for entire of your life time !!
    Great job
    An iraqi citizen..

  5. It’s sad how a country where history of Hanging Garden of Babylon and where one of first civilization roots was formed suffers with basic amenities issues like water. I come from a country blessed with so plentiful of water that we don’t really think or appreciate it. My best wishes for people of Iraq, hope you will build your country and continue to be strong heart in the process. It pains me to watch this, I can’t imagine how anyone born or descended from Iraq would feel.

  6. In simple terms
    Every old and ancient places such as the Middle East, India and Africa and even south east Asia are all being destroyed by the western world and they say that they are helping

    Is this called helping

  7. Why is no one mentionting the fact that prophet muhamed said one of the signs of end of time is Furat river will dry up

  8. What is the crime of the babies your denying a basic human right of water, Turkey and Syria your goverments should be ashamed.

  9. The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Revelation 16

  10. John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His Beloved Son. That whosoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life.

  11. Revelation 16:12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was was dried up

    Christ is coming soon. Repent! Believe in the gospel

  12. I normally don't comment on videos but being an ancient history buff, and as a person who was born and still lives in Basra. I can't help but feel the need to thank Vox for shedding some light on the issues that are happening there. This needs to be brought to the attention of more people in the world. The atrocities that are happening there needs through a way or another some thoughtful international intervention. It's just sad, so so sad to witness how poorly a country is doing while having such rich existing and potential resources

  13. USA is a WAR crime but who is USA people or government or company or evil spirit demon or what hmm…who will take responsibility…if I say you have weapons shall bomb you to prove it or shall I wait due procedure…investigation….its all about WAR Crime…..

  14. I was born in Baghdad, any Iraqi residing outside of Iraq surely has fond memories, unfortunately I have to say this much, treasure those memories coz Iraq is no more and a distant memory, things will get worse before they get better and how much I wish I didn’t have to say this of my birth and ancestral land..

  15. That's so sad b/c it's nefarious religious groups in the US who are doing all the wars. I remember standing in the kitchen of my childhood home, as a teen, watching the Gulf War on the TV. All I could think about were the people on the receiving end of those bombs. Made me sad to be American.

  16. "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared." Rev 16:12 😮😮😮

  17. Should colab with Israel , they don’t have much water resources, they did an infrastructure project called “dew” , invest in desalting since the north neighbours r being selfish , lots of solutions just need honest governance , man iraq looked beautiful

  18. Wow. This is the first time I'm hearing that dams are actually harmful to the environment.
    Wow, the US coming in and helping bring water back to those people.

  19. Looks like the survivors in 2020 will have to march to a new refugee center , there are water keepers building new dams that will rock your world ….

  20. Rasulullah SAW bersabda, Hari Kiamat tak akan terjadi sebelum Sungai Eufrat mengering dan menyingkapkan ‘gunung emas’ yang mendorong manusia berperang. 99 dari 100 orang akan tewas (dalam pertempuran), dan setiap dari mereka berkata,  ‘Mungkin aku satu-satunya yang akan tetap hidup’. (HR Bukhari).
    Dalam riwayat lainnya, Rasulullah bersabda, Sudah dekat suatu masa di mana Sungai Eufrat akan menjadi surut airnya, lalu tertampak perbendaharaan daripada emas, maka barang siapa yang hadir di situ janganlah ia mengambil sesuatu pun daripada harta itu. (HR Bukhari Muslim).
    Imam Bukhari juga meriwayatkan hadis lainnya, Rasulullah SAW bersabda, Segera Sungai Eufrat akan memperlihatkan kekayaan (gunung) emas. Maka, siapa pun yang berada pada waktu itu tidak akan dapat mengambil apa pun darinya. Imam Abu Dawud juga meriwayatkan hadis yang sama. 
    Dalam hadis itu, Rasulullah pernah bersabda bahwa sungai yang mengalir di tiga negara besar, Turki, Suriah, dan Irak itu pada saatnya nanti akan menyingkapkan harta karun yang besar berupa gunung emas. Selain itu, dalam kitab Al-Burhan fi `Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir az-Zaman diungkapkan bahwa keringnya Sungai Eufrat merupakan saat datangnya al-Mahdi sebagai akhir zaman.
    Hadis di atas membicarakan tentang Sungai Eufrat. Dalam bahasa Arab dikenal dengan nama al-Furat atau air paling segar. Menurut Dr Syauqi Abu Khalil dalam Athlas al-Hadith al-Nabawi, Eufrat adalah sungai yang mengalir dari timur laut Turki. 
    Sungai itu membelah Pengunungan Toros, lalu melewati Suriah di Kota Jarablus, melewati Irak di Kota al-Bukmal, dan bertemu Sungai Tigris di al-Qurnah yang bermuara di Teluk Arab, ujar Dr Syauqi. Panjang sungai itu mencapai 2.375 kilometer. Dua anak sungainya, yakni Al-Balikh dan Al-Khabur, sudah mengering.

  21. 3:45
    The Arabian Gulf، it's will remain an Arab forever✌
    الخليج العربي ، سيبقى عربياً إلى الأبد✌

  22. maybe Iran should just annex Iraq maybe the people would like that ..???? or maybe Britian should re annex Iraq …???? I wonder who they would choose LOL

  23. Iraq , another American success story. Forget the Russians and the Chinese , we are the problem ! No one on earth has caused more death , destruction and suffering than the US has , no one.

  24. What a clusterfrick. those poor people, everyone's been doing their proxy wars in their backyards for years and years. Some probably dont even remember what peace and prosperity are like.

  25. يا خنازير العراق طلع بثورة للخلاص من الاحتلال الامريكي والايراني وليس من اجل الماء والكهرباء بعدما نحرره سنعيد الماء والكهرباء وكل شيء اليه

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