Iraq, Birthplace of Agriculture, Now Imports 80% of Food

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A combination of drought, foreign dams, and failed policies is threatening to turn much of Iraq’s fertile land into a dust bowl reminiscent of what happened in the United States during the Great Depression. Faced with what some are calling an environmental catastrophe, Iraq’s current plight is all the more startling when viewed in a historical context. This is the same land that gave birth to human agriculture, back when empires ruled Mesopotamia and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers carried more than enough water for farming.

Today, the two rivers are more likely to become trickling streams, once dam projects in Turkey and Syria go into full effect. Iran is also helping to strangle Iraq’s rivers by blocking tributaries that flow between the two neighboring countries. Adding to the problem are a two-year drought that has caused the country’s rainfall to plummet, and chronic electricity shortages that have forced people to cut down more trees for firewood, leaving even more bare land across which dust storms gather in ever greater numbers and strength.
Iraqi agricultural officials say 90% of the land is either desert or suffering from severe desertification, and what’s left of the arable land is disappearing at a rate of 5% a year. As a result Iraq, once a food exporter, is now buying nearly 80% of its food from other nations.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Fertile Crescent 'Will Disappear This Century' (by Fred Pearce, New Scientist)


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