Extreme water scarcity has taken a toll on Sulaimani’s Barika refugee camp for the last two months. The residents go days without showering or washing dishes and are left with no choice but to buy water themselves.
Shvan Ismael, a resident of the camp, says they have not received any water for the past five days.
“The water is very scarce. There is no water at all in the camp. Once every five to six days, we get water for half an hour to three hours. It is very insufficient. We sometimes do not take showers for five days to a week, due to the lack of water. The summer is here and we have no water,” he told Rudaw’s Peshawa Bakhtyar.
The refugees from Syria are left helpless as all the water tanks are completely empty, as they call on authorities to come to their aid.
“There is no water. All the camp’s residents are poor, but they still have to buy water. We hope you can help us and convey our voices. There is no water, we are all poor and barely surviving. We have to buy water every two days,” said Mnawar Ismael, a resident of the camp.
The Kurdistan Region and Iraq face chronic water shortages largely due climate change induced lower precipitation levels and higher temperatures as well as dams upstream on international rivers.
Addressing the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, chief of mission for the UN in Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said, “Water represents the most critical climate emergency for Iraq. By 2035, it is estimated that Iraq will have the capacity to meet only 15 percent of its water demands. Ninety percent of Iraq’s rivers are polluted, and seven million people are currently suffering from reduced access to water. This is a significant multiplier of threats to Iraq’s stability.”
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraqi government have made water security a priority, building dams and negotiating with neighbouring Turkey and Iran to secure Iraq’s share of cross-border rivers, but the country faces an uphill battle with outdated infrastructure, severe pollution and mismanagement of the resource.
Barika refugee camp has been dependent on five water wells since 2014. However, three have completely dried up and water levels in the remaining two are low, with less than 30 percent of the water left.
Payam Salam, the camp’s supervisor, said they have a plan.
“There is a plan to increase the depths of the wells in the first phase. If that solves the problem, then we will not have a need for the second phase, which would be digging new wells. So we have hope that the problem will be solved shortly,” he told Rudaw.
Without access to clean water, the refugees are more susceptible to the spread of disease. And the lack of water will be keenly felt as summer begins and temperatures surpass 45 degrees Celsius.
Camp Barika houses 289 Syrian refugee families with over 1,300 individuals. In addition to water shortages, the residents also suffer from job scarcity and lack of income sources.
According to the most recent data from the interior ministry, Kurdistan Region houses over 240,000 refugees from Syria, who fled their homes when civil war broke out in 2011 after the government violently cracked down on protests demanding reforms.