Iraq Climate-Migration Study

Published: Nov 7, 2022 Reading time: 5 minutes
Iraq Climate-Migration Study
© Fared Baram/ NRC

People in Need’s Gender and Inclusive Climate-Migration Study conducted between July and August of 2022, adds to previous PIN climate research and explores how climate change has impacted the communities of Salah al-Din. It gains greater clarity how families have adapted to the changing milieu with negative coping mechanisms by conducting Field Group Discussions (FGDs) with men and women in Shirqat, Baiji, and Tikrit districts as well as Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) with government authorities, university and research center. The study examines how the latest climate trends impact the governorate, how its communities adapt to dwindling agricultural yields and water supply including migration trends from rural to urban centers, how vulnerability of women, children and persons with disabilities has been amplified, and concludes with recommendations for organizations and communities responding to Iraq’s climate crisis. 

According to UNEP, Iraq is the fifth-most vulnerable nation in the world to decreased water and food availability and extreme temperatures. Increasing temperatures, heatwaves, declining and more variable rainfall, more frequent sand and dust storms (SDS) combined with amplified salinization and desertification processes are some of the challenges faced by Iraq due to or exacerbated by climate change.

An astounding 92% of Iraqi land is threatened by desertification. The Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture reported that 15% of land, or 10,400 square miles, has already been desertified. Improper management of natural resources, high urbanization rates, and the construction of dams and the diversion of rivers throughout neighboring countries have further exacerbated Iraq’s climate crisis. Iraq’s Ministry of Environment (MoE) report that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers by 50%, which will likely raise new transboundary water issues over water management.

This can post further stresses in a fast-growing population, and ultimately affect food, water, health security, and social cohesion, seriously limiting the transition from humanitarian aid to development. This scenario also increases risks of triggering conflicts and tensions over the natural resources and beyond as one farm owner in PIN’s report highlighted dwindling yields in Salah al-Din stating, “[If] a few years ago there were 100 pomegranates, currently there are only 40 because of lack of water” while another noted increasing conflicts between land owners and sprinkler owners . In al-Alam district, one FGD reported that annual cereal production fell from 103,000 tonnes to 53,000 tonnes between 2019 and 2021.

An already exposed country to climate hazards, Iraq is vulnerable due high sensitivity and low adaptive capacity, which can be particularly affected by fresh water withdrawn and scarce agriculture capacity (ND-Gain), while a low readiness to improve climate resilience is influenced by scarce governance, social equality, education and innovation Past and more recent conflicts have also made it harder for the government to manage natural resources and infrastructure and face environmental issues with one female participant communicating, “The war also destroyed our farms, as one of the fields containing many trees was bulldozed” whilst another farmer from Makhool added,“…trees were razed and many sprinklers were stolen, as well as electrical transformers”. Pre-existing gender norms and persisting inequalities, high corruption and low institutional mechanisms, education and innovation gaps not only make Iraq more vulnerable but also less ready to face climate change challenges.

Multiple pathways exist in connection to climate change drivers that interact with political, social and environmental stressors, finally leading to increasing existing vulnerabilities and disrupting security. This may result in: i. livelihood deterioration, ii. migration and mobility, iii. tactics of military and armed actors, and iv. elite exploitation and mismanagement.

In a country where security concerns, wars and conflicts have led to huge migrations and internal displacements and people seeking refuge externally, climate-induced migration is becoming a rising trend. Recent studies have highlighted not only an increase in evidence of drought-induced migrations in southern Iraq, but also in other governorates across the country. In 2021 the Norwegian Refugee Council highlighted through a survey carried out in Anbar, Basra, Duhok, Kirkuk, Ninewa, Salah al-Din, and Thi Qar governorates (including interviews to IDPs and returnees) that drought conditions have already impacted displacements, as 7% of 2,800 households in the sample have had a family member forced to migrate as a result of water scarcity conditions and its socioeconomic effects, particularly affecting youth; community members in Makhool cited their children and youth are forced to quit school and find work in the nearby towns of Shirqat, Baiji district, or even Erbil and send money back home . Another study by IOM highlights that in November 2021 a total of 303 families remained displaced as a result of drought conditions in two districts in Ninewa Governorate (al-Ba’aj and Hatra).

Migration and movement dynamics are strictly interconnected to deterioration of agriculture livelihoods and improper use of natural resources, and scarce alternative incomes, commonly forcing men to migrate to cities in search for job opportunities. This in many cases, results in leaving women behind to support farmlands, adding an extra burdens and responsibilities, with potential cascade effects on children. Therefore, gender elements, norms and dynamics must be included in migration and movements analyses/assessments, considering that Iraq was ranked 154 out of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, with women having lower economic opportunities and participation, education and political empowerment.

The above-mentioned dynamics are evident in governorates where PIN operates, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and Ninewa; where livelihoods have broadly been disrupted by long-lasting conflicts and displacements, Covid-19 has further posed a threat and climate change is leading to additional impacts in an already dire situation. Along the pathway to recover from conflicts and increase resilience in a changing climate, local migration dynamics captured by PIN’s study play a pivotal role and need to be fully understood. Available information concerning migration trends remains limited.

Further analysis should therefore account several aspects in combination, both social and environmental, and recognize the limits. It should include a broader spectrum of environmental changes rather than only climate change, while from a social perspective try to unpack the complexity of the situation that farmers face and possible responses, and the hardness to depict them just as climate migrants. On the other side, it is similarly difficult to understand the actual challenges that vulnerable farmers face and the opportunities, also financially, to migrate and relocate, and the “tipping point” of single households.

Climate Migration Study here.

Author: People in Need