Over 100,000 Iraqis uprooted by collapse of ancient water system – UNESCO

14 October 2009
Zimzimuk karez tunnel in northern Iraq

The collapse of ancient underground aqueducts, triggering severe water shortages, has driven over 100,000 people in northern Iraq from their homes in recent years, according to a new study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The collapse of ancient underground aqueducts, triggering severe water shortages, has driven over 100,000 people in northern Iraq from their homes in recent years, according to a new study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The agency’s study is the first to document how drought has led to a steep drop in water flows in the centuries-old system, known as karez, that hundreds of communities depend on.

Karez were designed specifically for arid climates to remain productive during dry spells, but UNESCO found that since the onset of drought four years ago, 70 per cent of them have dried up, also propelled by the overexploitation of groundwater pumped by modern wells.

By this August, only 116 of 683 karez – a single karez could potentially provide enough water for almost 9,000 people and irrigate more than 200 hectares of farmland – in northern Iraq were in operation.

Prior to the drought, political turmoil, abandonment and neglect posed the greatest threats to karez, but today few Iraqis know how to maintain or repair them, further resulting in their state of disrepair.

Entire communities have had to abandon their homes to find new sources of water. Jafaron, one of the hardest-hit villages, saw most of its karez dry up, leaving its irrigated land, the only source of food, barren.

If conditions do not improve quickly, a further 36,000 people – currently relying on water tanks, which must be refilled several times a day by trucks travelling long distances – will be forced to move.

 

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