July 9, 2009, Ashur Mohammed, 60, checks his land in Latifiyah, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq where below-average rainfall and insufficient water caused drought in the region.
( Hadi Mizban
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and this is The Takeaway. Let's get back to it. Last month, a group of 13 aid organizations working in the Mideast released a devastating and urgent report. According to the report, more than 12 million people in Syria and Iraq are in immediate danger of losing access to water, food, and electricity.
Speaker 1: They say rising temperatures record low levels of rainfall and drought are depriving people of drinking and agricultural water.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That was in This TV discussing that new report, which calls on the international community to address the drought and the regional catastrophe that is likely to follow. Joining me to discuss this is Nirvana Shawky, the Middle East and North Africa regional director for CARE. Nirvana, thank you for being here.
Nirvana Shawky: Thank you, Melissa, for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Why did CARE and these 12 other organizations feel that now was the right time to release this report?
Nirvana Shawky: We work with vulnerable populations across the world, and of course, the Middle East and North Africa is no exception. We have been monitoring with great concern the worsening drought in the region. We had to increase programming to support people's livelihoods and food security. Since the climate and subsequent drought are hugely disruptive to agriculture and harvest, and adding to that the COVID pandemic as well, the water crisis people are facing in the region now is really coming to unprecedented level, such as in Iraq and Syria, it is actually coming on top of existing crisis and reaching a point where the already preventative measures that we are taking to deal with the fragile concepts we operate in are no longer effective.
Data clearly showed that the Euphrates River, on which more than 12 million people in both Syria and Iraq depend, has 70% less water than usual. Other data from NASA Earth System Observatory showed that this regional drought across the region is likely to be the worst in 900 years.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What are the root causes of this drought?
Nirvana Shawky: It is multilayered, allow me to say. The water crisis is hitting the countries that already are experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises of our times. 10 years into conflict in Syria, for example, with economic crisis and COVID-19, meant that more than ever are in need of humanitarian assistance. However, just looking closely at the causes of the current water crisis, we are seeing that Syria and Iraq are experiencing the worst drought level in 70 years.
There is a record low levels of rainfall and temperatures keeping rising. The Euphrates River, in which more than 12 million people in Syria and Iraq depend, has 70% less water than usual. Most of the water stations are not working anymore, some due to the low water levels in dams that provide electricity to the region, and others due to the destruction by conflict and the resulting lack of maintenance and repair.
Adding to that, the internally displaced communities who already struggle to survive day by day are worst hit. Many of them live in camps or informal settlements that are rarely connected to the water systems. They are dependent on water trucking from the humanitarian organizations, and even that, they are not having constant access to it. To be very honest, the situation is made worse, but the fact is, we have not seen the worst days yet.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about what actions and steps need to be implemented immediately.
Nirvana Shawky: The water crisis is affecting the electricity, and this is something that we need to factor in. For example, in northern Syria, two dams will likely close soon, and then three million people will be without electricity. This is affecting families in their homes, but also public services such as hospitals and health centers. Many essential facilities can only operate with generators today, and often only for one or two hours per day. Imagine a hospital treating wounded people, and COVID-19 patients, or mothers giving birth, have to work without electricity.
In the same time, we're already seeing outbreaks of diarrhea as people simply don't have access to clean water. In displaced camps for internally displaced people, over 90% of the population say that they have to rely on water trucking and they cannot afford paying for enough water, especially now during the hot summer temperatures. What happens is that people have to prioritize using water to drink for themselves or their children and often having not enough water for hand-washing. This is causing, of course, a huge risk where hardly anyone is vaccinated against COVID-19.
From an action perspective, there are so many things that need to be done, but the top priority, because there is no time to waste, authorities in the region and donor governments across the world need to act now to save these lives. I think the big priority here is the funding, especially that humanitarian funding has been cut drastically in the past year, especially for the northeast of Syria, and more support is needed to sustain humanitarian operations. We have more needs but less resources than ever today.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Certainly, war and regional conflict are made so much worse by a climate crisis like this, but in the vicious cycle, this climate crisis can also then lead to greater international tensions within the region. Can you talk to us a little bit about the way that regional governments, maybe particularly those that are wealthier, nations like Turkey, are in relationship with nations, for example, like Syria, in this moment?
Nirvana Shawky: The situation is impacting everyone. There are no exceptions here. This year, the droughts are not just hitting Syria and Iraq harder than usual, we can also see that people in Turkey's major cities are suffering from water shortages as water reservoirs have been depleted since last year. This is the regional crisis that requires everyone to act together to try to find a solution. The latest fires in Turkey are unfortunately showing how drastic the impact of the drought is, not just, again, on specific country, but across the region.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is there something that listeners can do, that individuals can do in this moment?
Nirvana Shawky: Sure. I think that the support has to be on multi-levels. We are very grateful for donor governments that support CARE and the humanitarian community to serve the communities that are most in need, but there is also the fact that active citizenship, an example in the US, can play a more active role to really engage on advocacy, on support, [unintelligible 00:07:23] advocacy to your local representatives and making sure that these issues are raised to their attention.
There is also the importance of participating and hopefully donating, if possible, to similar causes that are not necessarily always on the forefront of the humanitarian agenda in some areas of the world. It's important to raise this level of attention towards it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Nirvana Shawky is the Middle East and North Africa regional director for CARE. Thank you for joining us today.
Nirvana Shawky: Thank you. It's my pleasure. Thank you, Melissa.
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