BAGHDAD, Sept 21 Millions of Iraqis may have no access to clean water in 15 to 20 years if Baghdad fails to resolve its long-standing dispute over water resources with neighbouring countries, Iraqi government officials said on Wednesday.
Iraq, already struggling with water shortages, says hydroelectric dams and irrigation in Turkey, Iran and Syria have reduced the water flow in its main rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris.
"Our expectation is that after 15 to 20 years the people in the provinces will wake up to find no safe water for drinking and agriculture in the Tigris and Euphrates," Iraq's Agriculture Minister Izzedine al-Dawla told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with U.N. officials in Baghdad.
Dawla said Iraq was trying to introduce modern farming and irrigation methods to ration water and overcome the shortages.
Ross Nouri Shawis, a deputy prime minister at the meeting, said water shortages would get worse in the years to come if no deal with its neighbours was reached.
"The problem will grow in the future and it will become an essential life issue for Iraq and the Iraqi people," he told reporters.
Shawis said Iraq would need 70 billion cubic metres of water annually in 2015, when only 44 billion would be available.
Iraq has been in talks with both Turkey and Syria since the 1960s for a bigger share of the water, but no agreement has been reached so far, he said.
Water shortages pose a big challenge for Iraq due to a rising population, depletion of resources, lack of rainfall and advancing desertification, officials said.
Wheat and rice production have suffered in the past two years, due in part to rising temperatures, along with a dearth of water in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Iraq started to suffer from drought almost two decades ago with its worst year in 2008, and global warming could mean Iraq faces another three years of drought, Iraqi officials say. (Reporting by Aseel Kami; editing by Rania El Gamal)