The agricultural sector contributes 35 percent of Iraq’s non-oil gross domestic product (GDP) and is the rural sector’s largest employer. As a consequence of years of conflict, misdirected resources, and the effects of Iraq's centralized command, economic growth and development have been stifled, thereby curtailing Iraq's ability to invest in new infrastructure and maintain existing facilities.
The crisis has been acute in the water-resources and irrigation sector due to the lack of preventative maintenance since the 1980s, and the reduction in public budgetary support. Irrigation-user groups have disintegrated and stopped contributing end-user fees. Irrigation water-use efficiency became among the lowest in the Middle East and North Africa region. Moreover, Iraq is heavily dependent on external water resources that are not subject to well-established cross-border agreements. Consequently, Iraq has faced the threat of decreased water inflows and increased salinity (particularly in the Euphrates basin), which negatively affect agriculture, drinking water quality and the ecological balance of marshland areas.
Deteriorating water quantity and quality have put 40 percent of historically-irrigated areas out of production, while 70 percent of the lands are affected by high soil salinity which limits crop yield. Serious environmental and health risks arise from frequent water shortages in main water courses, extensive sedimentation at main barrages/dams, accumulated soil salinity, and contaminated water supplies.
To respond to these challenges, the Bank and the Government of Iraq have jointly-prepared a Country Water Resources Assistance Strategy (called the “Water-CAS”), which identified two roles for donors in the water resources and irrigation sector. The first is to expedite investment in water infrastructure, for the urgent provision of water supply, for fast restoration of rural livelihoods, and for urgent attention to dam safety (20 major dams or barrages with a total storage capacity of 33 billion cubic meters suffer structural and operational shortcomings). The second donor role combines these fast investments with institutional and regulatory reforms, in particular capacity-building for the central government’s water ministry and its provincial offices, and the empowering water-user groups. Institutional and regulatory reform is particularly relevant in Iraq, where there has been over-reliance on engineering solutions to palliate institutional deficiencies.
The two phases of the project have made progress toward their goals, which are:
- To address urgent rural water needs through a flexible program of labor-intensive civil works to improve rural water supply, irrigation and drainage facilities;
- To create near-term local employment through these labor-intensive interventions; and
- To increase capacity at the Ministry of Water Resources.
The results chain: To achieve these objectives in a record time, the project expedited the preparation and implementation of 39 small-scale, labor-intensive subprojects (mainly civil works), evenly distributed across the entire country, and each with a ceiling of US$2 million. This “slicing” approach helped to achieve a two-pronged impact: fast restoration of rural-water infrastructure, and fast creation of local jobs. For the same grant budget, larger, more extensive contracts would have needed much longer time for preparation and implementation, and may have not guaranteed employment of local labor.
To date, the two phases of the project:
- Provided 182,5000 people with improved irrigation and water supply;
- Created local work opportunities totaling 290,000 man-days (around new 32,000 jobs);
- Rehabilitated 111,000 hectares;
- Boosted yield per hectare to 90 percent from just 20 percent;
- Trained 2,360 staff at the Ministry of Water Resources.
Total IDA support to the city of Taiz under the flood protection project is US$ 81 million, which includes US$10 million under the Taiz Pilot Emergency Water Supply Project and US$40 million through the Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Project. The total cost of the three phases, including government’s contribution, is about US$97 million, provided between 1991 and 2010 to finance a number of activities, including civil works representing 83 percent of the total project cost. After securing Taiz from destructive seasonal flooding, the Board approved in May 2010 and additional IDA support to Taiz to help upgrade a number of informal settlements at a total cost of US$ 22 million.
The Country Water Resources Assistance Strategy was co-financed by the Bank-Netherlands Water Partnership Program and was prepared in collaboration with the US Agency for International Development and with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The project design has considered related activities being carried out by other donor agencies such as FAO. The project also has served to improve coordination between Iraqi ministries (Water Resources, Agriculture, and Planning and Development) and donors engaged in the water and irrigation sector.
Toward the Future
Building on the success of ECIRP and AF-ECIRP, the Bank and the Government of Iraq have been preparing (with help of a Japanese grant) a new project with envisaged cost of US$150 million that aims at:
- The rapid creation of employment in targeted farming areas;
- Increased agricultural value added and return to water consumption in targeted farming areas;
- Improved capacity for water resources monitoring and investment appraisal in the Ministry of Water Resources.
Project components will include:
- Rehabilitation of a defined number of irrigation/drainage and land-reclamation schemes;
- Rehabilitation of equipment in a selected number of high priority dams and barrages, in addition to undertaking dam-safety studies;
- Support to the Ministry through training and information management systems.