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Iraq partially reverses ban on farming summer crops amid water crisis Open in fullscreen

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Iraq partially reverses ban on farming summer crops amid water crisis

An Iraqi farmer tends to crops in Diwaniyah, 160 miles outside Baghdad [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 July, 2018

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Amid rising pressure, Iraq's government said it reversed its ban on rice farming despite a worsening water shortage crisis.
Iraq has partially reversed a ban introduced last month on planting summer crops as the country grapples with a worsening water shortage crisis, AP reported on Thursday. 

Amid rising pressure, Iraq's government said it reversed its ban on rice farming, but made no mention of corn or other crops. Agriculture Ministry spokesman Hameed al-Naief, however, cautioned that less than 3 percent of the area allocated to rice last year would be allowed. 

High temperatures and insufficient rains have left Iraq with only enough water to irrigate half its farmland this summer.

But farmers blame the government for not effectively managing water and irrigation, and they also fault Turkey for building dams behind the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. 

Water levels in these two rivers fell by more than 60 percent in two decades, according to a 2012 report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Flood irrigation has been used in Iraq for millenia, but the FAO has warned of massive water wastage. It is calling on Iraq's government to revamp its approach to agriculture, but the country's Natural Resources Ministry says it does not have the budget for reform. 

Protesters have demanded the government secure more water from Turkey, fill the country's reservoirs and drill into the nation's aquifers. 

About 70 percent of Iraq's water supplies flow in from upstream countries - and Turkey is building new dams that will further squeeze water availability in Iraq.

Syria is also expected to start drawing more water off the Euphrates once it emerges from the yearslong civil war.

Earlier this summer, videos on social media showed the water levels of the Tigris River so low that Baghdad residents were crossing it on foot.

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