Water scarcity in the Fertile Crescent is driving suffering

STORY: The Middle East's Fertile Crescent is drying up.

It's an arc sweeping from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf - nourished by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers...

Location: Aleppo countryside, Syria

and it's believed to be where farming developed more than 10,000 years ago.

But now the region is facing a severe water crisis – which could fuel more turmoil in the Middle East as communities struggle over dwindling water resources.

Location: Al-Bu Hussain village, Diwaniya, Iraq

In Iraq - a prolonged drought has only worsened in recent years.

Abbas Elwan drilled well after well, desperate to find water for his family's parched farmlands in the south.

It was an area that once produced enough wheat and barley to sustain his extended family.

But after another failed attempt in August, he took his own life.

This is his brother Ali Elwan.

"The last season, he harvested 25 tons. And during the three years - from 2020 to 2022, there was nothing. We stopped completely."


ELWAN: "Because there is no water. And no rain. So we stopped completely."

Farmers in neighboring Syria and Turkey are also struggling.

Syria saw its worst drought in more than 70 years in 2021, according to the International Rescue Committee.

Harvests across the country were hit hard.

Moussa Al-Sheikho is a shepherd in Syria’s Aleppo countryside.

“This will lead to famine because this is our main source of income, and if this source disappears, it will leave us with two choices, either to immigrate or die of famine."

Location: Douma, Syria

Syria's long-running civil war grew out of anti-government protests in 2011 following a long drought that hit crop yields and livestock and drove people into cities.

Location: Devegecidi Dam, Diyarbakir, Turkey

In Turkey's southeast, where the Tigris and Euphrates draw their waters, rainfall in the year to September was about a third below the average of the previous three decades, data from Turkey's meteorological agency showed.

Both Iraq and Syria depend, in part, on water flow from Turkey.

AL-SHEIKHO: “There is a drought affecting the wells, and water level in Euphrates has reached a very low level. Before we used to get water from a very close distance, but now the water is 400 meters away.”

Some Syrian officials accuse Turkey of cutting the Euphrates flow over the last two years to half the level it committed to in a 1987 accord, a charge Ankara denies.

Almost 90% of rain-fed crops in Iraq, mostly wheat and barley, failed this season, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Abdel Wahad al-Yasry, a provincial deputy governor for agriculture and water in southern Iraq, has already begun to observe competition for water and conflict between farming communities.

"As a result of water scarcity, there are social problems. And there will be more problems because of water scarcity. Water scarcity causes disputes between people from neighboring areas. Those at the end (downstream) want water and they consider that those upstream took the water, but in reality, it is water scarcity that caused these problems."