BAGHDAD - The Government of Iraq reasserted its commitment to tackle the ongoing water crisis on July 3 as it completed the first stage of a national initiative to map the country’s underground water resources.
Representatives of the government, academia and the international community recently met at a high-level gathering in Baghdad to inaugurate the country’s first centralized groundwater database and commission the next phase of the multi-million dollar initiative led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Government efforts to address drought and other complex water-related issues have been hampered in recent years by a lack of reliable and up-to-date information on underground water. While the water flowing in the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers—the country’s primary sources of water—is well understood, existing knowledge of groundwater in Iraq is considered to be too incomplete, outdated and fragmented to provide a basis for strategic water planning.
In 2010, UNESCO Iraq launched a nationwide initiative to integrate Iraq’s groundwater data into a centralized database and help the government take stock of groundwater supplies. The results of the first phase were delivered during the UNESCO-sponsored event, entitled “National Validation Seminar for the Advanced Hydrogeological Survey for Sustainable Groundwater Development in Iraq (Phase I).”
A new National Hydrogeological Resources Assessment Network and Database for Iraq, known as “geoFIA” (www.geo-fia.org), was unveiled at the meeting. Designed as an interactive web-based platform, geoFIA will be used by Iraqi experts to collect, update and analyze information on groundwater on a continuous basis. GeoFIA is expected to underpin water master planning and bolster scientific research in the country.
The inauguration of geoFIA also marks the transition towards launching the next stage of the program, a two-year, US $10-million initiative that will map Iraq’s aquifers and develop a more complete understanding of water below the earth’s surface.
The National Seminar was co-hosted by the Advisory Commission of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik (PMAC) and UNESCO, and attended by high-level dignitaries such as Chairman of the Prime Minister Advisory Commission, Mr Thamer Al-Ghadhban; H.E. Mohammed Abdullah, Deputy Minister of Industry and Minerals; H.E. Dr. Samir Raouf, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, and EU Ambassador to Iraq Dr. Jana Hybaskova. Other high-level representatives and experts from the Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Planning, and Ministry of Higher Education also attended.
In his opening address, Mr. Thamer Al-Ghadhban, Chairman of the Prime Minister Advisory Commission, emphasized that a stable and safe supply of groundwater is instrumental to the national security of Iraq. Providing decision-makers with facilitated up-to-date and transparent scientific data will help encourage the Government to embrace a modernized and collaborative system for the management of groundwater resources. Mr. Thamer called on the government to engage the international community and to finance joint projects that address priority issues such as water.
H.E. Jana Hybaskova, Ambassador of the European Union (EU) to Iraq, praised the “efforts of the Government and UNESCO for an integrated groundwater management scheme. We intend to continue our support towards protecting Iraq’s water resources. Our priority is to build the necessary capacity for sustainable management of the increasingly scarce resource water.” The EU had provided the funds ($675,000) for the first phase of the UNESCO-led initiative.