Water Resources and Small Scale Irrigation in the Kurdistan Region

  • PUK
  • 05/05/2000 00:00:00

In terms of average annual rainfall, and allowing for normal fluctuation, the region of Kurdistan can be divided into the following different zones:

Zone 1- Areas in which rainfall is virtually guaranteed: these areas are those in which the annual average rain and snowfall is between, at least 500 and as much as 1300mm. A substantial feature of these areas, which are estimated to comprise of approximately two million dunums, is mountainous and forested terrain.

Zone 2- Areas in which rainfall is usually plentiful, in which average yearly rainfall ranges between 350 and 500mm. Such areas, which account for approximately 1.6 million dunums and are located in Suleimani and Irbil provinces (along with some areas of Dohok that lie within the first rainfall zone), are counted as the principle areas of agriculture production in Kurdistan.

Zone 3 – Areas in which rainfall is not reliable, where the yearly average is between 100-200mm. In some years this can be the case with as much as 800,000 dunums of land, mostly around the cities of Khaniqin, Mosul, and Kirkuk.

Thus the total amount of arable land which is dependent upon winter rainfall is approximately 4.4 million dunums, that is roughly 89% of the region’s total area. 11% of Kurdistan’s terrain is therefore dependent upon irrigation.

Figures for the actual area of lands under cultivation were not available for the preparation of this report – an indicator the inadequate amount of attention that we give to the preparation of vital statistics that we are in great need of. We can, however, make reference to the agricultural survey undertaken by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Iraq Office, in cooperation with the FAO’s Northern Iraq office. This was published in October 1998 in Irbil.

This statistical survey focused upon winter crops during the winter growing season of 1997-98. It relied, with regard to summer crops and vegetable production, upon the statistics provided by the three northern provinces of Irbil, Suleimani and Dohuk (Kurdish-administered portions), for summer growing season of 1997 only. It also published information regarding the area under orchard / fruit tree production, and fruit production. We present the FAO statistics below, bearing in mind that under a crop-rotation system the amount of land under cultivation at any given time would be approximately 50% of the total cultivable land:

Cultivated Land in the Kurdistan Region, 1997-1998 (FAO)

Seasonal Production Area (dunum) Total Area %

Winter Crops 1.923 million --- ----

Winter Vegetables .040 million --- ----

1.963 million 84.6%

Summer Crops .095 million --- ----

Summer Vegetables .147 million --- ----

.243 million 10.4%

Fruit Orchards .113 million .113 million 5.0%

Grand Total 2.320 million 2.320 million 100%

Thus nearly 85% of the total agricultural land is devoted to winter rain-fed crops and vegetables. This is in spite of the fact that many studies have pointed out the region’s proclivity to marked fluctuation in the amounts of annual rainfall, and as a result recommended greater reliance upon cultivation by means of small-scale irrigation projects. Such studies have underlined the importance of undertaking feasibility studies of such projects as a matter of urgency.

In this context, I would like to refer to a paper that I was able to obtain, entitled “General Report on the “Feasibility of Small-Scale Irrigation Projects in the Northern Regions – Part I”, and written by two consultant engineers, Ahmad Sousah and Fahi Sufyan. The General Irrigation Directorate of the Ministry of Agricultural Reform published their paper in Baghdad in 1965. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to obtain the other volumes of this valuable study. Observing the spirit of scientific objectivity exhibited by the study, I take pleasure in citing a passage from its preface:

The unique climate and geography of the northern areas renders possible the efficient application of small-scale irrigation technologies for perennial cultivation and for maximizing the use of all available water resources for general development purposes, for which such projects are designed.

The study (at least in its first volume) presents technical details (engineering and hydraulics and other aspects) pertaining to the feasibility of implementing 23 irrigation projects proposed to serve an area of 600,000 dunums, three quarters of which could be developed for agricultural cultivation and production. The authors appear confident that the water required to implement these projects in their various sites and locations could be readily available. But realistically, given the circumstances of their times and the fact that high project costs would not necessarily have been cause for hesitation, today we need to re-examine the suggested projects and prioritze them according to our very different circumstances and capacities. Today, the need for quick implementation and minimizing expenditure are major constraints that we face – which they did not in the 1960’s.

It would be my hope that the map which accompanies the study might serve as a springboard for embarking upon an intensive contemporary discussion of small-scale irrigation, and further examination of the constraints and opportunities, by specialists in the University of Suleimani and other technical institutes in our region. We must recognize the great value of the research that Mssrs. Soussa and Sufyan have undertaken. We are indebted to them for their caustic observation in their introduction that:

No serious interest has been displayed in developing small-scale irrigation projects in the northern areas. This has resulted in it becoming necessary to undertake the large dam projects in Dukan and Darbindikhan in order to develop irrigated agricultural lands, and then, subsequently, to accommodate the displaced inhabitants of villages that were flooded by the creation of these dams on the Little Zab and Diayali rivers in turn.

The General Irrigation Directorate of the Ministry of Agricultural Reform had made abundant use, in 1954 and 1955, of consultants and experts in small-scale irrigation for rural Kurdistan, when the Dukan and Darbindikhan dams were constructed, inundating many villages and large expanses of productive agricultural land as a result. Later on, the directorate undertook studies of small irrigation projects in the vicinity of the two reservoirs. Although these efforts yielded no tangible outcomes, they did pave the way for American engineers to produce a study of the Khabur and Greater Zab Basins in 1955.

Important starting points and guidelines to revive work in this area today might include:

To subject the Sousa and Sufyan study to a contemporary update and review;

To study soil types and classify lands according to their suitability for cultivation;

To study the hydraulics details to ensure the availability of the required quantities of water needed for small irrigation schemes;

To continually seek alternatives and choose projects on the basis of need and cost considerations;

To select projects which can promise a quick return on initial investment and rapidly demonstrate the success of the approach.

As a final observation, it is always good to stress the importance of drawing upon the resources that are available from UNSCR 986 assistance in the reconstruction of the Kurdish countryside. There can be no doubt that small-scale irrigation projects providing for the revival of agriculture constitute an essential component of rural reconstruction. This is not only from the economic or production point of view, but equally from the social perspective. At the same time, the relevant United Nations offices have prioritized measures to combat drought and prevent desertification, on a global scale as well as in our own region. There will be opportunities to review the budge allocations from the “Oil for Food” program, and to increase the amounts earmarked for agriculture and irrigation, in particular. We should be prepared to make the most of these.

Source: Kurdistan Newsline - PUK, By Dr. Kamal Khayat- May 5, 2000, Issue # 27

  • PUK
  • 05/05/2000 00:00:00