In a land of hardship and resignation and deep faith, the disaster along the Shatt al Arab appears to some as the work of a higher power. “We can’t control what God does,” said Rashid Thajil Mutashar, the deputy director of water resources in Basra.
But this current problem has been building for decades. The headwaters to these famous rivers have had problems for years. Turkey, Syria and Iran have all harnessed the water with dams leaving those downstream with little more than the leftovers.
“The water is from God,” said Mohammed Sadoon, a farmer and fisherman in the village of Abu Khasib, who sold two water buffaloes last year because he could no longer provide them with potable water from the Shatt. “They shouldn’t seize it from us.”
To deal with the downstream problems, the Iraqi government is looking at building a dam on the Shatt to keep the sea water out. But, how much is that going to cost? Is this the best solution or just a stop gap measure?
Effective water management for the entire country must be the ultimate goal. Iraqi has had repeated talks with neighbouring countries to increase the river's flow but a drought is hitting the region once again.
“If our government was good and strong, we would get our rights,” said Hassam Alwan Hamoud, the 71-year-old patriarch of a Bedouin family that lives in reed huts on the marshlands adjoining the Shatt near Abu Khasib. Instead, they move with their water buffaloes as the salt water dictates. “Our government just talks. They are weak.”