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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Turkey postpones filling of dam amid fears of water crisis in Iraq

Water levels of the Tigris reduced significantly since last week, sparking renewed panic among Iraqis

The Tigris river flows through the ancient town of Hasankeyf, which will be submerged by the Ilisu dam in southeastern Turkey, September 27, 2017. Umit Bektas / File Photo / Reuters
The Tigris river flows through the ancient town of Hasankeyf, which will be submerged by the Ilisu dam in southeastern Turkey, September 27, 2017. Umit Bektas / File Photo / Reuters

Turkey has postponed the filling of a large dam on the Tigris river until July as fears of major water shortages in Iraq increase.

Water levels of the Tigris river have reduced significantly since last week, sparking renewed panic among Iraqis as around 70 per cent of Iraq's water resources flow from neighbouring states, especially in the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers as they both flow through Turkey.

Turkish Forestry and Waterworks Minister Veysel Eroglu confirmed the decision was due to the holy month of Ramadan, Anadolu Agency reported.

But, Ankara started to fill the dam basin last week, a step that has come as a surprise to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi.

"The Turkish Prime Minister had promised me they would start filling the dam at the end of June, not the start, so I was surprised to see they started," Mr Al Abadi told a news conference.

"I am aware that they have elections on June 24 and perhaps need to get the support of farmers," he added, referring to Turkey's planned general elections for the presidency and the parliament.

Iraq’s minister of water resources, Hassan Al Janabi, said that meetings are ongoing between the two countries to ensure that enough water flows to Iraq during and after the filling of the reservoir behind the Ilisu dam.

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In response, the Turkish Ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Yildiz, told reporters that Iraqis have nothing to "worry about as sufficient amount of water will continue to flow".

Mr Yildiz said that an agreement was signed on May 15 between the two countries to regulate the water flow.

Also, dams built in neighboring Iran on its tributaries to the Tigris have contributed to low water levels.

“The Ilisu reservoir is 10.4 billion cubic meters. Turkey can fill it in as little as six months. They have publicly committed to fill it slowly over two years to reduce the impact on Iraq,” Azzam Alwash, Iraqi hydraulic engineer who served as an adviser on the Mosul Dam, told The National.

Yet, he expressed that Iraq had failed to prepare itself adequately for this issue.

“I have been warning for over ten years and published an idea for Iraq to lease Ilisu and decommission Mosul dam,” Mr Azzam said, adding that all of Iraq will suffer including the marches.

In the 1950s Turkey proposed the building of the Ilisu Dam – a hydroelectric project – sparking an international outcry as many feared its construction would result in a dramatic reduction of the water level, prompting thousands of residents to resettle.

“It is a wakeup call for Iraq to start modernizing its irrigation methods before it is too late. It will result in the death of agriculture in the land where it was born,” Mr Azzam said.