The UN Convention to Combat Desertification came into force 25 years ago. in the Iraq is threatened with dwindling water sources. Worrying developments can also be seen on other continents.
Photo series with 11 pictures
Children used to swim in this pool of water. That must have been a nice cool down here in the desert in western Iraq. An underground spring has been feeding the basin and supplying the Rahalija oasis with water for centuries. The residents need it for their households and the palm trees on which they live. But something began about five years ago that you have never seen here before: the water level suddenly fell rapidly. The basin is now less than half full.
“Every day we notice that it keeps falling”
He is very concerned about the water, says Abdelasis al-Harbi, chairman of the Rahaliya Agricultural Cooperative. “Every day we notice that it keeps falling.” Even his father, grandfather and their ancestors grew palm trees here. Now there is an urgent need for a solution. “All of our palm gardens are dying,” complains the farmer. Many leaves on the trees have already dried out.
The UN Convention against Desertification came into force 25 years ago (December 26th). The contracting states undertook to take vigorous action against the desertification of large areas of land. But Rahalija experiences the opposite: the desert threatens to grow there. And it could get much worse as the Middle East expects increasingly drought in the next few decades. As the “hotspot of climate change”, the people there have to prepare for more frequent and longer droughts, as the Mainz climate researcher Jos Lelieveld warns.
Causes of water shortage are complex
For the Vice Mayor of Rahalija, Adil al-Shamari, it is clear that the water shortage has to do with climate change. That year Iraq and Syria experienced one of the worst droughts in decades. The causes of the water shortage are more complex. In Iraq they are also the result of a failed water policy. However, the country is currently being hit particularly hard by the fact that the Tigris and Euphrates mountains bring less water.
According to an analysis by the Israeli Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the fact that, among other things, Turkey, the country of origin of the two rivers, has reduced their inflow is one of the main factors behind the water crisis in Iraq. But Rahalija and Iraq, where other areas also suffer from severe water shortages, are just examples of drought and drought. This phenomenon can be observed in many regions of the world.
Second largest lake in Turkey is drying up
The “salt lake” (Tuz Gölü) in the central Turkish province of Konya is actually a bird paradise. Thousands of flamingos breed there every year. But this summer a disturbing sight presented itself: the carcasses of chicks and parent birds covered the dried up lake bed. Thousands of flamingos perished because they could no longer find food. The water level of what was originally Turkey’s second largest lake has continued to drop over the years – and according to researchers, it is on the verge of drying out completely.
According to experts, the reasons for this are the climate crisis and a wrong agricultural policy. Precipitation has been falling in Turkey for years. According to the state meteorological institute, it has recently rained there as little as it has not in 20 years.
A man stands next to an irrigation system that supplies the Iraqi oasis Rahalija with water (archive picture): An underground spring has fed the basin with water for centuries, but the basin is now less than half full. (Source: Oliver Weiken / dpa)
The island nation off Africa’s east coast is currently experiencing its worst drought in decades. Especially in the south, hardly anything grows in the fields, people would have to feed on cactus leaves and grasshoppers.
The cause is climate change, says the World Food Program WFP. But extreme weather events such as storms, thunderstorms or heat waves on the continent are also causing problems for South Sudan and increasingly parts of the East African states of Mozambique, Kenya and Somalia.
Desertification in India is increasing
Data from the Indian space agency Isro show that desertification is increasing here. One important factor is the so-called “green revolution”, a radical restructuring of agriculture in the 1960s after previous famines. Farmers began to use higher yielding seeds and many chemicals. These helped to significantly increase productivity and feed the land, but they also harmed the soil.
Because of subsidy incentives, rice and wheat are mainly grown in particularly fertile regions, which require a lot of water. In the state of Punjab, for example, the groundwater level is falling further and further, by 25 to 30 centimeters per year. With increasing urbanization, the earth could also absorb less rainwater, warn experts.
Disastrous consequences in Australia
Experts assume that global warming down under will lead to an accumulation of persistent droughts and other serious weather phenomena in the future. In recent years in particular, dry spells have increased, with devastating consequences: from August 2019 to March 2020, massive bush fires devastated over twelve million hectares in six of the eight Australian states and territories.
The Australian Department of Agriculture has set up a multi-billion dollar drought fund to better prepare farmers and communities for dry spells. “Drought is a permanent feature of the Australian landscape. It has significant economic, social and environmental implications,” it said.
Rainforest in Brazil partially destroyed
According to experts, the fact that there has been a lack of water and drought in large parts of Brazil in recent months reflects, among other things, the consequences of climate change. A study by the “Mapbiomas” initiative also showed that the water surface in the largest country in Latin America has declined by 15 percent since the early 1990s. The conversion of forests for cattle breeding and agriculture as well as the construction of hydroelectric power stations therefore contributed to this development.
Around 20 percent of the original Amazon rainforest has already been destroyed. Scientists warn that with a share of 25 percent, a point has been reached at which the whole area turns into a steppe.