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Basra Polluted Water Crisis, Iraq

The number of Iraqis poisoned by polluted drinking water in Basra is nearing 100,000, with officials failing to tackle a weeks-long crisis.


The city of Basra was often dubbed "Venice of the Middle East" for its vibrant canals. Today, it is suffering because its freshwater lifeline, the Shatt-al-Arab river that runs through it, is polluted. Furthermore, low levels of water and the rise of salty water intrusions from the Persian Gulf are threatening the lives of the more than 2.5 million inhabitants of Iraq’s second city. According to statistics from the Health Directorate, Basra’s water pollution is staggering: chemical contamination stands at 100% and the bacterial pollution at 50% (Al-Mirbad, 2018).

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Basra Polluted Water Crisis, Iraq
Location of conflict:Basra
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:4 million
Start of the conflict:10/08/2018
Relevant government actors:Basra Health Directorate
Basra governorate
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights:
The Iraqi Civil Society: SAVE THE TIGRIS AND MARSHES Campaign:
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society:
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Threats to use arms
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Soil contamination, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other Health impacts, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsdiarrhea and poisoning
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:The Iraqi Red Crescent Society has stepped up to provide desalination and purification systems in Basra. As of 10 September, 2018, the Iraqi Red Crescent teams have started installing four stations with a production capacity of 8,000 litres per hour. They plan to include additional stations with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (IFRC, 2018).
A recent fact-finding mission to Basra by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC, 2018), recommends that donor governments support the development of a framework that supports more equitable water sharing (between Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, countries that exploits the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers). It is in the interests of those who share the rivers to work on it together as an urgent diplomatic necessity. Cleaning up and enabling ecological regeneration will take a comprehensive effort and integrated action plan involving all the states concerned.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Iraqi health minister downplayed the number of affected health cases to around 1500 restraining therefore the severity of the situation and the expected mobilization (see video in references).
To cope with the water contamination, residents were buying bottled water for their drinking water. While this was the only safe alternative, it was not always available, and often not affordable.
Without urgent cooperative action, over-exploitation of rivers by the countries that share them will destabilize the entire region.
Sources & Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Mustafa Saadoun: Basra Residents Reeling from Contaminated Water, Al Monitor, August 31 2018
[click to view]

Almirbad, 2018:مفوضية حقوق الانسان: مستشفى ابي الخصيب تستقبل 400 حالة تسمم
[click to view]

Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights: كارثة في البصرة ضحيتها سبعة آلاف شخص أصيبوا بالتسمم 2018
[click to view]

The Independent: Boiling Basra: Residents afraid of their taps as Iraq's water crisis threatens to destabilise the region, 2018
[click to view]

The Baghdad Post: Eidani, Daewoo delegation discuss solving Basra’s water crisis
[click to view]

The National: Basra hospitals overwhelmed as water poisoning cases near 100,000, 2018
[click to view]

Save The Tigris: Fact-Finding Team Report on the Humanitarian Situation in Basra, 2018
[click to view]

IFRC: Iraq: Red Crescent responds to water crisis in Basra, 2018
[click to view]

Reuters: Once Iraq's Venice, Basra's waters have now turned deadly, 2018
[click to view]

Norwegian Refugee Council: Basra Fact Finding Mission Report #3, 19 October 2018
[click to view]

The Royal Institute of International Affairs: Basra’s Poisonous Water Demands International Action, 2018
[click to view]

The Middle East Eye: Unrest in Basra: US is playing politics, governor tells MEE, 2018
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

من البصرة محافظها أسعد العيداني حول أزمة تلوث المياه
[click to view]

محتجون يقتحمون صحة البصرة احتجاجاً على تفاقم أزمة تلوث المياه
[click to view]

Health minister downsizing the gravity of the conflict, Aug 2018
[click to view]

Iraqi protest against unsafe water in Basra | Al Jazeera English
[click to view]

Aljazeera: Iraqi protest against unsafe water in Basra, 2018
[click to view]

The National: UN calls for 'calm' in Basra after six protesters die, 2018
[click to view]

شاهد ديدان في ماء الاسالة في البصرة وحدوث 400 حالة تسمم بسبب الماء المالح
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Sarah Safieddine
Last update18/08/2019
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