Disappearing waters threaten traditional livelihoods

Al-Chibayish’s last buffalo breeder confronts severe drought in Iraq’s marshes

Al-CHIBAYISH, DHI QAR, 20 January — In the heart of the Al-Chibayish Marshes, Raad Hameed, known as “Abu Muqtada,” stands as the final buffalo breeder battling severe drought conditions in Eshan Algobba. A majority of his livestock have perished, while many neighbors have abandoned the area.

He is left facing the harsh realities of climate change, a phenomenon that has hit Iraq particularly hard. The country is one of the countries worst affected by climate change, according to the UN.

Abu Muqtada fears the upcoming summer might be the marshes’ last. The dwindling resources threaten both human and animal survival in the region.

Speaking to 964media, Abu Muqtada expressed his despair: “I am the lone holdout in this area. The future of me and my buffalos is uncertain.

“Where there was once a thriving community, bolstered by plentiful water, now only empty houses stand, abandoned and desolate.”

The crisis compounds daily, with no viable solutions in sight. Government promises of financial aid to assist with buffalo upkeep and fodder prices have gone unfulfilled, exacerbating the breeders’ plight.

In previous years, locals would relocate from the marshes to river farms nearby during summer. Now, driven by the unrelenting drought and dashed hopes for higher water levels, migrations occur even in winter.

“My buffalos have mostly succumbed to the drought and the pollution of what little water that remains,” shared Abu Muqtada, lamenting over the lack of feed and rampant diseases.

Efforts to negotiate water access with Turkey have been unsuccessful, despite satellite data suggesting a potentially wetter year ahead.

The drought has brought drastic changes to the marshes. Approximately one-third of Iraq’s buffalo population has died, and 400,000 people have been forced to leave the marshes for cities elsewhere in Iraq. Some experts fear the marshes’ heyday may be a thing of the past.

Additionally, plummeting rainfall has led to skyrocketing prices for the reed bundles essential for constructing the traditional arched-reed houses, or “mudhifs,” of marsh inhabitants.

The severe drought poses a threat to the communities of Abu Zahab and Al Ibrahim, as they face the vanishing of the last river in Al-Mashkhab, potentially spurring further internal migration throughout Iraq.