Iraq is facing a mounting water crisis. With temperatures rising, drought conditions becoming more extreme, and riparian states further restricting flows into Iraq, the country’s water supply is shrinking even as demand is rising. In response, Iraq has doubled down on dam construction. Dams continue to be promoted across Iraq as a means of storing water and thus a valid method of climate adaptation. However, dam projects carry high costs for local livelihoods, the environment, cultural heritage, disrupting ecosystems and impacting water quality. In addition, a phenomenon that remains under-reported is evaporation: reservoirs behind dams can actually cause an overall loss of water due to high evaporation rates during the summer months.
Save the Tigris have published an original research report on evaporation, examining the impact of the phenomenon on stored water, with estimates of evaporation losses of dam reservoirs in Iraq and similar regions. This report reviews the current state of research on the topic with a focus on Iraq.
In recent decades, public authorities have monitored the level of evaporation throughout Iraq across various meteorological stations. It is estimated that evaporation from Iraq’s reservoirs decreases the country’s total water supply by more than 10% each year. As a general rule, the bigger the reservoir, the larger the share of water transferred from the surface into the atmosphere. Drought conditions in Iraq are expected to intensify in the coming years, and evaporation will likely remove an increasing share of the water held in the country’s dam reservoirs. Despite these forecasts, the Kurdistan Region has committed to dam all the rivers in its area, while the Iraqi government recently commenced construction of Makhoul Dam on the Tigris river.
In its report, Save the Tigris appeals to the Government of Iraq (GoI) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to remove large dam projects from regional and national water management strategies. It also recommends the establishment of a framework for consistent monitoring of evaporation and raising awareness about water resource conservation. Ecologically sustainable methods beyond dam reservoirs need to be explored in order to reduce excessive loss of water through evaporation while ensuring that people in each part of the country enjoy reliable, sufficient, and convenient supplies of clean water.