Iraq faces a multifaceted water crisis that may have implications at the humanitarian, economic, security and social levels- and that may cause displacement and migration. Flows in the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers – the country’s primary sources of water – are decreasing at an unprecedented rate because of dams, reservoirs, and irrigation projects developed upstream, outside of Iraq’s borders. Increasing average temperatures and decreasing annual rainfall due to climate change are further challenging the entire region. Iraq’s water crisis is expected to persist.

Father and son fishermen in an Iraqi wetland. Source: International Organisation for Migration

Environmental challenges such as water scarcity, pollution and the destruction of ecosystems can affect people’s financial opportunities and their health and physical well-being. These challenges are driving displacement and migration, along with political, demographic, economic and social factors. 

WPS is conducting an in-depth analysis of water-related challenges and potential solutions at the interprovincial level. We are examining the impacts of water scarcity, poor water quality, and sub-standard water management on socio-economic development and displacement within and between various Iraqi provinces. By developing a deeper understanding of these dynamics, WPS aims to turn the vicious water-conflict cycle in Iraq into a more virtuous water-peace cycle. WPS also actively supports national and international initiatives and organizations in Iraq by providing qualitative and quantitative analyses, raising awareness, and facilitating capacity development. We do this within our partnership as well as in cooperation with other parties.

Reed harvesting alongside a canal in the Iraqi marshes. Source: International Organisation for Migration


In July 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq identified 21,314 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the central and southern governorates, who were forced to leave their homes due to lack of access to clean water. Problems of high salinity and/or waterborne disease in both urban and rural communities contributed to the displacement of approximately 5,300 families in the southern governorates of Missan, Muthanna, Thi-Qar and Basra, and 1,700 families in the central governorates of Qadissiya, Wassit, Najaf, Babylon and Kerbala. Because water scarcity and pollution were key drivers of these displacements, IOM reached out to WPS to obtain additional information and insights on them.  

 This led to a collaboration between WPS and IOM-Iraq and the development of a project: “Water Quantity and Water Quality in Central and South Iraq: A Preliminary Assessment in the Context of Displacement Risk.” The goals of this project were to better understand changes in water quantity and quality in central and south Iraq over the past two decades, and water-related risks these regions would face in the coming decades. 

An exploratory modeling system was developed, which included hydrological, water resource, and water quality models for the Euphrates and Tigris river basins. Model results can be explored through the Water Crisis Risk Webtool. Findings are summarized in the Policy Report.  


Iraq Related Publications