This blog originally appeared in Climatelinks.
Originating in Turkey, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers traditionally have met the vast majority of Iraq’s water needs. The rivers are used to pump water into millions of homes and irrigate the historic Mesopotamia agricultural fields. Despite the presence of these great rivers, years of conflict, poor water resource management, and increased upstream damming are impacting the availability and quality of water in Iraq. The district of Soran—located in Erbil Province within the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI)—is one of the fastest growing districts in Iraq. Its population has rapidly grown over the last two decades, as its relative stability has meant refugees from Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from Iraq’s diverse Ninewa Plain have settled in the area.
Decreased water availability and increased population have left Soran’s local services strained, particularly water. “In Soran, while we have enough water, the gaps in our network and the growing population have forced us to truck water to most residents. This is inefficient, costly, and prone to water loss,” explained the Director of the Soran Water DirectorateTahsin Saadallah Abdullah. “Our network is very limited. Residents that receive piped water only receive it for up to one hour every two days and even then, the pressure is limited. Our residents are suffering, and our current approach is unsustainable,” he continued.
In response to this challenge, USAID and Coca-Cola through the Water and Development Alliance (WADA) have partnered with the Soran Water Directorate to improve water management practices and increase water availability by reducing water loss—providing an estimated 35,000 beneficiaries with improved water service delivery, and saving approximately 100 million liters of water losses to the water system per year. To accomplish this goal, WADA introduced the concept of water audits for the first time in Soran City to build the capacity of the Soran Water Directorate to calculate the water balance, the total water entering and exiting the drinking water system, and determine non-revenue water (NRW) quantities. The water audit for the eight targeted district metering areas revealed the system had 3.85 million cubic meters of NRW annually—or approximately 83 percent of total water supplied—meaning the Water Directorate was not collecting sufficient revenue for necessary operations and maintenance and limited water resources were lost through leakages.
Three important lessons came from the water audit:
The drinking water system in Soran has multiple water supply sources (e.g., rivers, springs, wells) and enough raw water resources to meet its current and future needs according to local standards in Iraq (300 liters/day/person). Similar to other medium-sized secondary cities around the world, the issue is not availability of water, but management of the available water resources. As populations increase, and climate change shifts rainfall patterns and changes water availability, maximizing the efficiency of water distribution will be paramount for water security and resilience. Understanding where losses are occurring is the first step in improving efficiency and can help guide investment in water infrastructure for years to come.
USAID believes in helping its partner countries such as Iraq build a water secure world for all, as detailed in the U.S. Global Water Strategy.
By Owen Scott, Senior Practice Specialist on the Water, Energy, and Sustainable Cities Practice with Chemonics International Inc.