Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi .AP
Climate change for years has compounded the woes of the troubled country. Droughts and increased water salinity have destroyed crops, animals and farms and dried up entire bodies of water. Hospitals have faced waves of patients with respiratory illnesses caused by rampant sandstorms. Climate change has also played a role in Iraq's ongoing struggle to combat cholera.
“More than seven million citizens have been affected in Iraq ... and hundreds of thousands have been displaced because they lost their livelihoods that rely on agriculture and hunting,” Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said in a speech to open the two-day Iraq Climate Conference in Basra.
Al-Sudani said the Iraqi government is working on a national plan to tackle climate change that consists of a series of measures it hopes to take by 2030. The plan includes building renewable energy plants, modernizing inefficient and outdated irrigation techniques, reducing carbon emissions, combating desertification, and protecting the country's biodiversity.
Among the projects is a massive afforestation initiative, where Iraq would plant 5 million trees across the country. Iraq also hopes to provide one-third of the country’s electricity demand through renewable energy instead of fossil fuel.
Al-Sudani said he is hoping to organize a regional conference on climate change in Baghdad in the near future as well.
Developments in neighboring countries have also compounded Iraq's water woes.
Iraq relies on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for nearly all of its water needs. They flow into the country from Turkey and Iran. Because those countries have constructed dams that have either blocked or diverted water, shortages have worsened in Iraq.
Climate change and its impact on Iraq's water resources and agriculture also comes at an economic cost, destroying people's livelihoods and making it more likely for Iraq to hike up its imports for basic staples that were once heavily produced in the country, such as wheat. The government once subsidized seeds, fertilizer and pesticides to soften the blow of increasing costs on wheat farmers and maintain a high level of production, but slashed them two years ago.