Read the full profile
Environment and health
The present quality of water in the Tigris near the Syrian border is presumably good, including water originating in both Turkey and Iraq. Water quality degrades downstream, with major pollution inflows from urban areas such as Baghdad due to poor infrastructure for wastewater treatment. The water quality of the Euphrates entering Iraq is less than that of the Tigris, as it is currently affected by the return flow from irrigation projects in Turkey and the Syrian Arab Republic and is expected to get worse as more lands come under irrigation. The quality is further degraded as flood flows are diverted into off-stream storage in Tharthar and later returned to the river system. Salts in Tharthar are absorbed by the water stored there. The quality of water in both the Euphrates and Tigris is further degraded by return flows from land irrigated in Iraq as well as urban pollution. The amount and quality of water entering southern Iraq from Iranian territory is largely unknown, although it is clear that flows are impacted by irrigation return flow originating in the Islamic Republic of Iran (UNDG, 2005).
The deterioration of water quality and the heavy pollution from many sources are becoming serious threats to Iraq. One problem is the lack of any effective water monitoring network so that it is difficult to take measures to address water quality and pollution as it is impossible to identify the causes. Hence, the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the water monitoring network have becoming urgent to ensure water security.
The Mesopotamian Marshlands in the furthest downstream part of the Tigris and Euphrates Basin have been seriously damaged during the last two decades. Dewatering the marshland areas to foster agricultural production as well as to divert waters away from the marshes for political reasons has caused an adverse impact on the ecosystem and the indigenous populations. The historical marsh area of 17 000 km2 has now shrunk to about 3 000 km2 after construction of a number of dams upstream. The potential success of recent restoration efforts depends primarily on the availability of sufficient quantities of satisfactory quality water to the marshland areas.
The quantity and quality of water entering the Gulf is also an issue to be addressed since fisheries are an important food source for the region. Other environmental issues to be taken into account are the impact of water management and changed flow regimes on migrating fishes and terrestrial species and on the viability of riverine and floodplain ecosystems throughout the Tigris and Euphrates basins.