Why Iraq's Great Rivers are Dying


Iraq gets almost all of its water from two rivers: The Tigris and the Euphrates. Both begin in Turkey and make their way down the entire length of the country, before emptying into the Persian Gulf. The problem is - they are drying up.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is geographical: Since both rivers begin in Turkey, Iraq doesn’t have control of how much water it receives. In the last 30 years, Turkey, Syria, and Iran have been building hundreds of dams along both rivers. Now only a quarter of the Euphrates reaches Iraq. Secondly, Iraq has been stuck in conflict for the last 16 years. In each case, the delicate network of treatment plants, dams, canals, and pipes has been repeatedly destroyed and neglected.

All of this has boiled over in the city of Basra - at Iraq’s southern tip. Last summer, after hundreds were poisoned by the water - riots erupted and were deeply destabilizing for the new Iraqi government. If Iraq is to rebuild, it needs to get fresh water to its people - a challenge that is getting harder every year.

Through Vox Atlas, producer Sam Ellis demonstrates where conflicts occur on a map and the ways in which foreign policy shapes a region.

Published on Jul 2, 2019


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