There are a broad range of investment options that are required to ensure the sustainable management
of the irrigated areas of Central and Southern Iraq. This work has identified a subset of those and
proposes that they be implemented within the near future, both by uptake within the Government of Iraq,
and by uptake by International Donor agencies. The list provided below is by no means exhaustive,
and further investment options could have been supplied from this project; we acknowledge that investments
from other assessments and analyses of the problem are just as important and relevant. The list below
represents what we believe to be the key investments, and they represent the quickest way to generate
a return on investing in salinity management in the irrigated areas of the Mesopotamian Plain.
Investment options have been partitioned into four main areas;
- Land and Production Systems;
- Knowledge Extension;
- Water; and
- Enabling Actions.
Each is seen to be as self-contained as possible, but we also acknowledge that there are dependencies
between the four areas. It is important to note that coordinated actions are required to achieve the
final benefit, and we believe that all investment options to manage salinity should be implemented to
obtain the maximum benefit. A brief description of the four areas is provided.
What is the return to the nation of particular investments in salinity management and irrigation refurbishment
and can a greater return be gained elsewhere for the same input? This is a difficult question and is not easily
answered. However, it is a necessary question in the case of Iraq where the task is large and the current funds
are limited. Investment in Enabling Actions is required to allow this question to be answered and allow
Government to provide a clear focus for salinity management, where the various responsibilities across
Government can be channeled to assert a single point of action. Salinity in Iraq is a complicated and ongoing
issue and short term projects for two to three years will not solve the problems in the long term. Authorities
should explore an approach that establishes a National Program for Salinity Management in Iraq, similar to
existing national agricultural programs. This would centralize the coordination of efforts and ensure high-level
integration between the water, agricultural and environmental sectors of Government. All investment in Iraq’s
irrigated lands across all three scales must be done within a robust investment framework where the benefits
can be assessed relative to the costs.
One unpalatable truth is that not all land is capable of being irrigated the same way and as such, land
needs to be classified in terms of its capability. Most investment should to be focused on land of high
capability from a national good point of view. Some land will have such low capability that investment
in these areas should be targeted at saline agricultural options as the most viable solution. Investment
in Land and Production Systems will need to focus on the development of an agreed view of the capability
of the lands of the Mesopotamian Plain and the matching of farming systems to the local capability. In this
way, production can be maximized, with flow-on benefits for both the nation and the rural population. This
process will allow both the management of salinity as well as adaptation to the problem.
Investment in the Water systems will take three forms; irrigation efficiency improvements, infrastructure
rehabilitation and control of the salinity of surface waters. Despite the shortage of water, there is a
general tendency for over-irrigation by Iraqi farmers. As a result, irrigation efficiencies are very low.
Work has shown that by matching water requirements to crop use and groundwater depth, productivity can be
increased and water used more efficiently (water is saved for use elsewhere). This provides a win-win
situation for all involved. It will be critical to invest in establishing the optimal water application
by generating reliable information on the irrigation requirements for different crops in areas with different
agro-climatological conditions. This information, once agreed, can then be provided to irrigators via
the knowledge extension network (see later investment option).
There is an urgent need to invest in rehabilitating and modernizing irrigation infrastructure. Irrigation
delivery and drainage infrastructure needs to be modernized at the irrigation command level and integrated
into a broader regional framework. Clear, appropriately resourced roles and responsibilities between
Government and farmers should be agreed. Furthermore, there is a need to increase the capacity and capability
of the managers of irrigation commands. This will be a hugely costly exercise, but is critical. We acknowledge
that there are a range of programs already underway by the Ministry of Water Resources, but additional
investment is required, and is appropriate. However, this investment must be clearly expended within a
coordinated strategic framework. Investment can be made at a variety of scales based on the amount available
to be invested. At the local scale, simple schemes of replacing or rehabilitating field and collector drains
can be easily instituted. Similarly, small infrastructure refurbishment schemes where pump installations are
upgraded are also possible. The investment in this manner can be scaled; that is, the more funds available,
the larger the number of sites, or the greater the area that can be treated. Major investment in main delivery
canals and associated facilities or in the main drainage network is also required.
Surface-water salinity must be controlled by tackling the major sources of saline water inflows to rivers
within Iraq, including the increase in salinity due to reductions in flow. Options that can be adopted are
varied and include major engineered structures and infrastructure such as water treatment. Improving water
resource infrastructure efficiency and infrastructure operating guidelines for simultaneous water and salt
load management (at multiple scales throughout the Mesopotamian Plain) is an intervention focusing on the
water supply side. Since the objective of this intervention is to maximize the volume of good quality water,
and minimize the volume of saline water, the primary goal is to separate good quality water from saline water,
and to reduce evaporative losses in the fresh water system (e.g. pressurized irrigation systems).
Direct salt reduction interventions focus on the removal of salt influxes into the water supply system. This
could be achieved by utilizing the Main Drain in a more efficient manner at lower cost, or by installing a
groundwater-pumping network to intercept return saline flow to the Tigris and Euphrates for higher cost and
more operation and maintenance cost. In the Mesopotamian Plain, the lower reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates
Rivers appear suitable for salt interception pumping systems. However, the investment and benefits of these
interventions must be carefully evaluated.
Investment in building a better Knowledge Extension system will focus on two main areas; the delivery system
and the information that is delivered. The Government of Iraq should refine its extension services to educate
farmers on the technical and management aspects of appropriate farming systems; in order to improve management
at different levels, it is important to increase the efficiency of extension systems, and increase farmer
participation through robust extension delivery. Some suggestions are through bodies such as Water User
Associations, Field Farmer Schools and Farmer Advisory Groups. A comprehensive on-farm water management
program should be launched to educate farmers on the precise irrigation requirements of different crops
under the conditions of the existing salinity and watertable depth, and this information extended through
the networks established by the tasks just mentioned. It is also important to ensure that the information
being extended is the latest available and has been developed within the broader national salinity management
Coordinated action is critical.