World Environment Day: Time for Bold Action on Climate in Iraq

By Giorgi GIGAURI, Chief of Mission, IOM Iraq

Last year, the second hottest temperature worldwide was recorded in Basra, Iraq: a sweltering 52.6°C (126.68°F). 2022 was a particularly bad year for climate-induced displacement in the country, with a tenfold observed increase in number of people displaced compared to 2021; and as environmental changes only continue to intensify, the rate of displacement is likely to continue to increase.

This World Environment Day, we are sounding the alarm: Iraq is in urgent need of assistance to respond to the adverse effects of climate change and environmental degradation on human mobility. Thousands have already been displaced– one in ten in the past six years – across the country’s southern and central governorates, and effects are also being felt in all other parts of the country.

Data from IOM’s climate-related programming is shedding light on the complex interplay between climate change and migration dynamics. Rising temperatures, prolonged droughts and erratic rainfall patterns have led to increased water scarcity, desertification and land degradation. This jeopardizes Iraqi lives, livelihoods and ways of life. As a result, many have been – and many more will be – forced to abandon their homes.

In areas of Qal’at Saleh district, Missan Governorate, this is already a reality for over half the population. Ten locations assessed in Thi Qar Governorate have been fully abandoned. As clean drinking water dwindles, soil salinifies and rivers and marshes dry up, issues accessing safe, sufficient water emerge as the top predictor of environmental migration in Iraq.

In response to these challenges, IOM has been working closely with national and local partners to address the adverse impact of climate change since 2018. IOM’s water infrastructure projects have connected over 1,000,000 people to safe and accessible water for drinking and agriculture; our support to sustainability-oriented small and medium agricultural enterprises has created over 1,600 jobs; and our business start-up and development packages have helped 2,200 small-holder farmers better adapt to climate change.

However, the magnitude of the climate crisis necessitates broader and more concerted efforts. As the Government of Iraq implements its strategy for climate action, collaboration between the international community, government partners, civil society, private sector and the country’s diversity of communities is absolutely imperative. Investments in climate-smart infrastructure; equitable land and water management systems and policies; sustainable and diversified livelihood opportunities; as well as early warning systems and disaster preparedness are crucial for reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience at both the local and national levels.

This World Environment Day, let us remember that the earth sustains us all, and we are its stewards. We must all play our part. Not doing so not only puts thousands of lives at risk, but it also threatens the progress and development already achieved by countries like Iraq, that are emerging from periods of immense violence and destruction. The best time to act was yesterday, but the second-best time is now. Let’s get to work.

Read in Arabic.

SDG 13 - Climate Action
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities