Home / Iraq / Water Management and Water Challenges in Iraq

Water Management and Water Challenges in Iraq

Water challenges in Iraq water mangment
Photo1: Tributary to Lesser Zab River, Kurdistan Region, Iraq. (Source : Virginia Tice)

Water management


There is no overarching national water law. There is, however, a draft water law but given the current tensions in the Iraqi parliament,[1] it will likely not be promulgated into official law any time soon.

There are limited water quality standards in effect. The terms of the regulation of effluents are described by Law No. 25 of 1967 and Regulation No. 2 of 2001, which defines contaminant limits for effluent discharges to the main water supply, main sewers, tributaries into the main water supply and the marshes. However, the regulations do not impose particularly restrictive limits, even for discharges into main freshwater bodies. Furthermore, limits for discharge into the sewer system are such that industries can presently discharge without any pre-treatment. This is a major problem because uncontrolled industrial discharges, especially those containing toxic substances, unnecessarily expose downstream users to poor quality water.

Water challenges

Inefficient water use

In addition to limited water treatment capacity, significant losses of treated water occur across distribution networks due to leaking and aging pipes and unpermitted extraction of water. Some governorates experience as much as a 40% loss in treated drinking water along the length of the water distribution network, as illustrated in figure 1.[2]

There are also significant losses of water through evaporation. Tharthar Lake alone is presently responsible for more than 50% of the evaporative losses from Iraq’s reservoirs. In the future, Tharthar Lake will likely only be used for flood control purposes in order to better conserve water resources.[4]

Figure 1. Water losses (%) along the distribution network by governorate.[3]

Reducing water use

The Ministry of Water Resources has adopted an aggressive strategy on water resource management in order to sustainably address the country’s water needs.[5] If the strategy is fully implemented, there is projected to be a 24.5% decrease in the freshwater consumption between now and 2035, even as Iraq’s population grows.[6]

A large part of this reduction is in the freshwater consumption by the agricultural sector. The strategy outlines new cropping patterns and crop mixes according to agroclimatic zones, on-farm water use efficiency increases to achieve 70%, conveyance efficiencies to 90% and operational efficiency increases to 95% to achieve an overall irrigation efficiency of 60%. If those gains are made, the surface water consumption in the sector should reduce by over 30% from 2015 to 2035.[7]

[1] There are even concerns that the government may fail altogether. See, e.g., Emily Anagnostos, 2016. ‘Iraq Awaits Court Ruling on Legitimacy of Parliamentary Actions’. Institute for the Study of War. Available at iswresearch.blogspot.it/2016/05/iraq-awaits-court-ruling-on-legitimacy.html?utm_source=Iraq+Awaits+Court+Ruling+on+Legitimacy+of+Parliamentary+Actions&utm_campaign=Iraq+Awaits+Court+Ruling+on+Legitimacy+of+Parliamentary+Actions&utm_medium=email, accessed 6 June 2016.
[2] Ministry of Planning/Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT), Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, Ministry of Environment, Baghdad Municipality, Ministry of Planning/Statistics Office of the Kurdistan Region, Ministry of Municipalities of the Kurdistan Region, Ministry of Environment of the Kurdistan Region, in cooperation with UNICEF, 2011. Environmental Survey in Iraq 2010: Water-Sanitation-Municipal Services. Available at reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Full_Report_2732.pdf, accessed 6 June 2016.
[3] Ministry of Water Resources of Iraq, 2014. Strategy for Water and Land Resources of Iraq 2015-2035.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Called the Strategy for Water and Land Resources of Iraq 2015-2035.
[6] Ministry of Water Resources of Iraq, 2014. Strategy for Water and Land Resources of Iraq 2015-2035.
[7] Ibid.