Land in a constant atmosphere of war, political instability weakening societal pillars, and the recent resurgence of ISIL(ISIS) presence, one would think that this wave of issues in Iraq would have reached its peak. Yet, a more pressing problem knocks at the door of this already weakened country — climate instability is the biggest threat of today's Iraq.
Recent studies predict that the country should face a twenty-percent drop in water resources, affecting the livelihood of most Iraqis and putting into question the habitability of the vast land. The historical fertile lands of Iraq, the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, are hit particularly hard with constant droughts, jeopardizing the country's economy and employment.
"Without action, water constraints will lead to large losses across multiple sectors of the economy and come to affect more and more vulnerable people," states the World Bank's Saroj Kumar Jha.
Although this is not a new occurrence, researchers state that over the last forty years, Iraq and surrounding areas have been severely affected by climate change as the temperatures rise abruptly about 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.7 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade.
"These regional warming rates are greater than the global ones," states George Zittis, an associate research scientist on climate change impacts at the Cyprus Institute. "The country has also experienced more frequent and extreme heat waves. Particularly in the last decade, several temperature records have broken … Hydrological and agricultural droughts are affecting several activities, including agriculture and food production."
Aggravating the already extreme circumstances, the neighbouring countries of Iran and Turkey are building dams to tackle their water shortage by diverting water from the strained Tigris and Euphrates. Further, their governments seem unable to negotiate fairly regarding water legislations, creating improper measures and using outdated irrigation systems that increase salinity and putting excessive tension on the already worsening humanitarian crisis. People whose livelihood depends on the agricultural sector are migrating to cities, which applies pressure to the high levels of poverty, population density in cities, and unemployment.
The predicaments caused by this situation and by government inaction will lead to an additional average warming of about 2.5C (4.5F) by 2050, causing heat waves. The most vulnerable population will be taking the full blast, as harvest yields, incomes and water decreases as hunger and malnutrition rise.
The Middle East is among the highest emitters of greenhouse gasses, and the need to adapt to the warming planet is an undeniable reality. Transitioning to renewable energy sources would be the way forward, although the political power struggles and lack of high accuracy climate databases and collaborative research make it problematic for such legislation to live past imagination.
As if predicting this crisis in the Middle East, the Palestinian-Iraqi artist Sama Alshaibi developed a breath-taking photography series back in 2019, depicting migration, environmental issues and the water crisis, weaving the desolated desert with surrealism to bring these issues to light.
The photo series Silsila reflects eight years of travels within the Middle East, where the artist communicated with migrant communities and was personally faced with the consequences of water shortage on their livelihoods and the environment. The artist's unique interest around the themes of migration and territorial boundaries comes from the subversive concept that these symbols disintegrate the true notion of the desert and its communities, the refusal to name the places photographed stemming from a desire to focus on these symbols.
"The desert doesn't respect boundaries and borders," explains Alshaibi. "It's void of centers and margins. It's an entity that doesn't adhere to these human and nation projects of trying to divide and separate. And water behaves in that same way."
Working mostly along economically disenfranchised communities, such as Palestinians under occupation and low-income neighborhoods, the artist enlightens otherwise unknown issues — the inability to farm and the drying of groundwater that forced nomadic communities to settle in city centers. The humanitarian and ecological practice of Alshaibi unshakably addresses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Clean Water and Sanitation and Climate Action.
"The next wars are the water wars," says Alshaibi. "And I would argue that in some areas, they have already started. Water will cause the next wars, the next displacements, the next epic massive refugee displacement, because of water stress, the further disintegration of water quality, and then the lack of fresh water."
Alshaibi’s mindfulness of current worldwide issues forces forward the severe consequences that industrial and agricultural practices have on the planet and the communities that need it the most to survive. Middle Eastern regions are the prominent climate change hotspots, and aid organizations have already warned that more than twelve million people in Iraq and Syria will lose access to water, electricity, and food because of these weather occurrences. Governments and individuals strenuously toil to modify the course of history but will it be enough?
See more of Alshaibi’s work here.