Iraqi farmers fight to save cattle from drought

Herds have decreased by almost a third from last year’s levels due to the drought, which shrunk water supplies. (AFP)
Updated 30 July 2018

Iraqi farmers fight to save cattle from drought

  • Local authorities estimate that some 30 percent of cattle across the south of Iraq have been lost during the drough
  • Canals have run dry and the cracked earth, empty water pipes, and dead grass testify to how few options farmers now have

AL-ATTASSIYA, Iraq: Iraqi farmer Sayyed Sattar knows he’ll soon have to let some of his buffalo go as he surveys the herd bathing in a dwindling pond close to the holy city of Najaf.
As southern Iraq suffers through a punishing drought, desperate cattle breeders are having to sell off animals to keep others alive.
Sattar, 52, has already seen some of his buffalo die of thirst.
Now, in a bid to stop any others being lost, he’s being forced to say goodbye to some of his prized beasts.
“With the money, we will be able to buy water and hay for the rest of the herd,” he says, his head covered with a traditional black and white keffiyeh scarf.
Sattar is far from the only farmer hit by the drought.
Local authorities estimate that some 30 percent of cattle across the south of the country have been lost during the drought, either dying from thirst or sold off for slaughter.
That is a major blow for the estimated 475,000 families who make their livings from livestock across the south of the conflict-hit country.
Herder Ali, 24, understands only too well the challenges being faced.
He has to travel ever greater distances with his flock to find water.
Around him, canals have run dry and the cracked earth, empty water pipes, and dead grass testify to how few options farmers now have.
To quench the thirst of their animals they have to pay, and the price of water has shot up, he says.
The lack of water is painful in an area that once formed part of the so-called “fertile crescent.”
Dubbed the “country of two rivers” due to the presence of the mighty Tigris and Euphrates, Iraq has seen its water supplies shrinking for years.
This year rainfall has been particularly scarce and reservoirs currently stand at only 10 percent full.
Beyond the natural causes there is also a human factor worsening the problem — the sharing of water resources on a regional level.
Neighbors Iran and Turkey have in effect rerouted several rivers and tributaries that used to help irrigate Iraq.
The recent launch of Turkey’s Ilisu dam on the Tigris has provided another blow for Iraqi agriculture and in June the authorities were forced to make a tough call.
The agriculture ministry suspended the growing of rice, corn and other cereals that consume a lot of water.
To help keep livestock watered, trucks are making the rounds in southern Iraq, offering to fill up the plastic tanks around cattle sheds for $20 (17 euros).
But as farmers see the costs soar, the price that their cattle fetch is collapsing.
Animals that once could have gone for up to $5,000 a head are now selling for as little as $1,500, meaning that cashing in on a buffalo can only cover the herd for two months.
To try to make ends meet many farmers have had to resort to taking out loans at banks and going into debt.
Unable to pay off their bills, a group of farmers recently took to the streets in southern Iraq asking for delays in their payments.
“Never in its history has Iraq known such a catastrophe,” said Ahmed Al-Issawi, head of the agricultural cooperative in Najaf.
“Our animals are forced to drink water where even mosquitos can’t survive.”
The drought has seen other problems increase — disease, worms and epidemics.
Animals “contaminate each other very quickly and die,” Al-Issawi says.
The Mesopotamian Marshes, one of the biggest wetlands in the region, have long been seen as one of the jewels of southern Iraq.
But now they no longer help guarantee an income for those who live there, meaning people have already started to move away — and more look set to follow.
“There will be an exodus,” Al-Issawi warned.


Lebanon approves law to import vaccines as coronavirus hits new record

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a legislative session, as Lebanon's parliament approved a law that paves the way for the government to ink deals for coronavirus vaccinations, at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon January 15, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 15 January 2021

Lebanon approves law to import vaccines as coronavirus hits new record

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament approved a draft law allowing imports of coronavirus vaccines as the tiny nation hit a new record in case numbers Friday and more hospitals reported they were at full capacity.
The new daily toll of 6,154 cases and 44 deaths came on the second day of a nationwide 11-day curfew that the government and doctors hope will reign in the dramatic surge of the virus.
Lebanon, a country of about 6 million people, has witnessed a sharp increase of cases in recent weeks, after some 80,000 expatriates flew in to celebrate Christmas and New Year.
During the holiday season, restrictions were eased to encourage spending by expatriates amid a suffocating economic and financial crisis, the worst in Lebanon’s modern history.
On Friday, the American University Medical Center, one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals, said in a statement that its health care workers were overwhelmed. The hospital’s ICUs and regular coronavirus units have reached full capacity and so did the emergency room, it said.
“We are unable to find beds for even the most critical patients,” the hospital said, urging people in Lebanon to help by taking extreme precautionary measures to “overcome the catastrophe we are facing.”
Mazen El-Sayed, an associated professor in the department of emergency medicine, described the situation as “tragic,” anticipating that the next two weeks would be even more dire.
In southern Lebanon, the Ragheb Harb Hospital also said that its COVID-19 units were now. “We are working beyond our capacity. The situation is very dangerous,” the hospital said in a statement.
The curfew, which began Thursday, is the strictest measure Lebanon has taken since the start of the pandemic. But many have expressed concern the measures have come too late — many hospitals have already reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients, some have run out of beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators while others have halted elective surgeries.
Lebanon was able to contain the virus in its early stages but the numbers started climbing after measures were eased in early July and following the massive deadly blast at Beirut’s port in August.
Following bureaucratic delays, the country now is putting hopes on vaccines that are expected to start arriving next month.
Parliament’s approval opens the way for imports of vaccines from around the world, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Health Minister Hamad Hassan, who is hospitalized with the coronavirus, had said that once the draft law is approved, the first deliveries of vaccines should start arriving in February.
Lebanon has reserved 2.7 million doses of vaccines from multiple international companies and 2.1 million to be provided by Pfizer, Diab’s office says.
Lebanon has registered nearly 243,000 coronavirus cases and some 1,825 confirmed deaths.