09 Mar 2023

NGO-Donor Forum on Water, Water Scarcity and Durable Solutions in Iraq

Erbil, December 8th 2022

The NGO Coordinating Committee for Iraq (NCCI) with support from the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and European Commission Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection (ECHO), hosted a discussion on water scarcity and climate change related needs in Iraq with a nexus lens.


Iraqi communities have borne the brunt of domestic and regional water mismanagement for years, affecting both the amount and quality of water that is accessible.  Recently, these impacts have been exacerbated by the effects of climate change, which has further reduced access to water for growing numbers of Iraqi citizens. Participants – which included national and international NGOs and representatives from several diplomatic and donor missions[1]  – heard how the response required cuts across a host of humanitarian, development and stabilization interventions, with needs spanning from access to clean drinking water to climate change adaptation to increased services, livelihoods and social cohesion support in urban areas receiving people displaced by water scarcity.


This forum took place at a critical juncture for Iraq and its policy development related to climate change and environmental issues generally. This is particularly true as NCCI and its NGO partners have witnessed the growing impact of these phenomena, including through ongoing and increasing migration as a result of the effects of climate change. NCCI will seek to take this forward through continued engagement with government, civil society, the UN and response architecture, donors and the private sector.   As the coordinating mechanism for NGOs, NCCI will also endeavor to facilitate conversations and provide space for further discourse on climate change. 


The key messages raised at this forum include:


  1. Water and governance, including emergency response planning


While there are gaps, some policies and agreements exist which cover water usage and management at a national level and which outline the Government of Iraq’s priorities on climate change. However, these are not systemically implemented or effectively resourced. There is a role for advocacy and diplomacy in encouraging the government to resource and implement these policies, which would in turn reduce the water quality related needs currently at issue. For example, participants heard how the effective use of increasingly limited water resources was made all the more challenging by high levels of pollution, and – despite legal frameworks to address this – limited enforcement of these laws and policies.


The need for a clear, whole-of-government approach in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to climate change and water scarcity was also evidenced, with a range of Ministries and governorate departments at various levels playing a key role in the level and quality of water available, and preparedness and response to the impacts of climate change. This is particularly true as NGOs identified the general lack of clarity regarding the specific roles of the various actors, coordination between them, and their capacity to response - particularly to present and emerging humanitarian needs.


Collecting the right and sufficient data can be a challenge, as government or external actors such as civil society do not necessarily have the ability or resources to collect and interpret data in a way that sufficiently identifies needs of the most vulnerable as well as provide measurable benchmarks that communities can hold government accountable to. This makes it challenging to respond to emergencies as well as long-standing issues, and to assess government capacity to respond them as well.


Government at federal levels as well as local governments at the governorate district and sub-district levels all have a role to play in responding to water scarcity and the impacts of climate change.  Oftentimes, local level interest and willingness to discuss and take action is more prevalent than at the federal level. However, as with many crucial issues at the local level, government has fewer resources and capacity.  There remains a need to identify ways in which to bridge the gap between the Government of Iraq and the regional/district/sub-district governments related to advocacy efforts, sharing of data, trends and budgeting.

While water scarcity in Iraq is not solely the result of climate change, climate change is accelerating the need to search for answers and solutions.  The Government of Iraq is responsible for resourcing and implementing policies; however, on-going conversations, such as those at the latest COP27, related to financial resourcing must continue. There is a need for collective responsibility. 


  1. Water and aid response - it is humanitarian, it is nexus


Looking at the data through a needs-based lens, NGOs have observed how low access to water in some areas and the subsequent impacts on livelihoods, through for example reduced agricultural productivity, has contributed to  displacement and increased humanitarian needs, including lacking access to sufficient water for drinking and hygiene purposes and implications on households’ resilience.  Indeed, REACH found that in certain areas (e.g. Hatra, Telafar, Hawiga) significant proportions of households are reporting access to drinking water as a priority need, with the lack of rehabilitation of public water networks identified as a barrier to access. Water scarcity also has significant protection implications for women and children. People in Need’s (PIN) recent study looking at the knock-on effects of climate change found children dropping out of school, gendered protection risks and forced informal work when movement from rural to urban areas is the only copying mechanism to combat climate impacts on livelihoods. Women and children are bearing the brunt of climate change. This is another aspect of water and climate issues that cuts across the response, given protection needs have so far been primarily addressed through humanitarian funding. With humanitarian funding significantly reducing, there is a duty to explore ways to respond to these life-threatening needs alongside longer-term development and reconstruction efforts, and particularly to explore them from the perspective of gender, age and other diversity. 


The response required to meet needs arising from water scarcity and climate change cuts across a range  of humanitarian, development and stabilization interventions, with resulting needs spanning from immediate access to clean drinking water to climate change adaptation support for farmers to increased services and livelihoods as well as social cohesion concerns in urban areas seeing population increases following water scarcity-induced displacement. With Iraq the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change and insufficient international action to turn the tide of global warming, related needs are unavoidably set to increase - in terms of both severity and number of people affected. 




[1] The Kingdom of Netherlands, the Government of the French Republic, the Government of Canada, the Confederation of Switzerland, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Government of the United States. 

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