Millions of Iraqis and Syrians without drinking water

The emergency originates from climate change and also affects access to electricity and food. In Syria it affects at least five million people, in neighboring Iraq more than seven. The drought has left about 400 square kilometers of arable land unusable. Concern mounts in Lebanon where medicines are also in short supply. 



Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Millions of people in Iraq and Syria are at risk of losing access to clean water, electricity and food as temperatures continue to rise due to climate change. Moreover, the collapse in rainfall and the consequent drought have led to a record - negative - water level. This is the alarm raised by experts and international activists who believe that the two nations, battered by years of war and corruption, need rapid action to counter the emergency. 

The drought is affecting electricity supplies because the low water level ends up impacting on the proper functioning of the dams, which in turn affect essential infrastructure, including health facilities. The emergency affects more than 12 million people, including five million in Syria who depend directly on the Euphrates River. In neighboring Iraq, the loss of access to the Euphrates and Tigris affects at least seven million people.

The Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb recently spoke out on climate change and emergencies related to them, calling for "serious actions" to counteract the devastating effects, especially in the Middle East region. The drought has made about 400 square kilometers of arable land unusable and at least two plants in northern Syria, which under normal conditions supply energy to three million people, are at risk of closure.

Carsten Hansen, regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the aid groups behind the warning, said that for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still displaced and many more still fleeing for their lives in Syria, the unfolding water crisis "will soon become an unprecedented catastrophe pushing more into displacement." Other aid groups included Mercy Corps, the Danish Refugee Council, CARE international, ACTED and Action Against Hunger.

CARE's regional chief for Mideast and North Africa, Nirvana Shawky, urged authorities and donor governments to act swiftly to save lives. The latest crisis comes on top of war, COVID-19 and severe economic decline, she said. "There is no time to waste," said Gerry Garvey of the Danish Refugee Council, adding that the water crisis is likely to increase conflict in an already destabilized region.

Experts are also concerned for neighboring Lebanon, mired in the worst economic and health crisis in its history: there is a lack of water, fuel, medicines and thousands of generators remain unusable, while most of the rivers are heavily polluted due to sewage and waste. Unicef has called for the urgent restoration of the electricity grid to keep essential services running.