Iraq’s Lake Sawa Dries Up Signaling Water Shortage

    18 June 2022

    This year, for the first time in its long history, Iraq's Lake Sawa dried up.

    "This lake was known as the pearl of the south," said 35-year-old al-Aqouli, who lives in Samawa, near the lake. "Now it is our tragedy."

    A combination of bad ownership by local investors, government neglect and climate change has turned Lake Sawa into a salty, flat area.

    Iraqis visit an area near the pond remaining of Lake Sawa, due to climate change-induced drought, in Samawa city, Iraq May 1, 2022. (REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)
    Iraqis visit an area near the pond remaining of Lake Sawa, due to climate change-induced drought, in Samawa city, Iraq May 1, 2022. (REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)

    The loss of Lake Sawa is only the latest addition to Iraq's water shortage. Experts say it is caused by climate change. Iraq has had drought and record low rainfall for years. The importance of water is driving up competition among businessmen and farmers. The poorest Iraqis are affected the most by the disaster.

    The narrow stretch of farmland along the Euphrates River is surrounded by desert. The area was ignored by the government starting in the 1980s.

    Locals call the area surrounding Lake Sawa "atshan" — meaning "thirsty" in Arabic.

    Formed over rock, the lake has no path for water to move in or out. For a long time, nobody knew where the Lake's water came from. Locals tell stories about how the water came to be in the lake.

    It is now known that the water comes from underground through a system of holes and breaks in rock. Rain from nearby valleys also feeds into the lake. Lots of rain can cause flooding.

    The lake sits five meters above sea level. It is about 1.8 kilometers long.

    Laith Ali al-Obeidi is an environmental activist in southern Iraq. "The degradation of the water began over 10 years ago, but this summer was the first time we lost the entire wetland," he said.

    Experts said the lake has not dried up permanently. They say its disappearance this year is because of thousands of illegal wells. Businessmen in nearby factories dig the wells because they cannot get enough water.

    Some water began to come back into the lake by early June. That was when the harvest season ended, meaning farmers did not need as much water.

    Aoun Diab is an adviser to the Water Resources Ministry. He said that closing illegal wells would have helped heal Lake Sawa. These would directly affect the economic interests of local officials.

    The problem is not only affecting humans, but other animals as well. Lake Sawa is a complex ecosystem.

    Sawa was filled with fish that were food for different kinds of birds. When the lake dried up, the fish died. Now the birds will have to find other food.

    Lake Sawa is "a case study for climate change in Iraq," al-Obeidi said. "This is the future."

    I'm Caty Weaver.

    Samya Kullab reported this story for Associated Press. Matthew Caputo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    pearl – n. someone or something that is very good or admired

    neglect – v. to fail to take care of or to give attention to someone or something

    thirst – n. an uncomfortable feeling that is caused by the need for something to drink

    degrade – v. to make the quality of something worse

    wetland – n. an area of land such as a marsh or swamp that is covered with shallow water

    ecosystem – n. everything that exists in a particular environment

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