Iraqis beat the summer heat by swimming in the shrinking Tigris River
Baghdad (AFP) – With high temperatures and power outages, Wissam Abed escapes the harsh Baghdad summer by swimming in the Tigris River, but as Iraqi rivers dry up, so does this old hobby.
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Near a bridge linking the east and west of the city, Abed stood in the middle of the river, but the water only reached his waist.
“I live here in Adhamiya, as my grandfather lived before me. And year after year, the water situation gets worse,” the 37-year-old said, referring to his neighborhood located along the Tigris River in northern Baghdad.
Abed waded through the water as far as the middle of the ancient river, where temperatures reached nearly 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and the wind blew through the city like a hairdryer on a July afternoon.
He told AFP that he comes to the Tigris River “to have fun and feel refreshed.”
Summer in Iraq is a clear example of the convergence of multiple crises weighing on the lives of the 43-strong population: a crumbling electricity sector, rising temperatures, and severe water shortages.
The United Nations says that Iraq is one of the five countries most affected in the world by some of the effects of climate change.
In parts of Baghdad, home to about nine million people, the water is still deep enough for young people to enjoy diving over piles of bricks. But elsewhere, new islets are emerging from the middle of the river.
“In the evening when we return to our homes, there is no water or electricity,” said Abed, a public employee at the Ministry of Electricity.
Last night I “came for a swim in the river at one o’clock in the morning before I came back” home.
Periodic power outages
In addition to lower rainfall levels, Iraqi authorities say the construction of dams upstream by Turkey and Iran has affected the volume of water running in rivers across Iraq.
Oil-rich Iraq, devastated by decades of conflict and international sanctions, depends on Iranian gas imports to meet a third of its energy needs.
It also suffers from rampant corruption and dilapidated infrastructure.
In general, power outages can last up to 10 hours per day. But every summer when the thermometer rises, public electricity supplies deteriorate.
Families who can afford it connect their homes to neighborhood electricity generators to compensate for the shortage in supplies.
But to get rid of power outages, Iraqi power plants will need to produce more than 32,000 megawatts per day, according to the authorities.
This year, for the first time, Iraq produced 26,000 megawatts per day on average until the beginning of July when production fell due to Iran closing gas taps with more than 11 billion euros in unpaid bills.
The Ministry of Electricity said on Friday that an agreement had been reached and electricity production had improved to exceed 24,000 megawatts.
While the first week of July was the hottest on record in the world, according to preliminary data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Iraq is experiencing a scorching weekend.
Temperatures are expected to rise to 47 degrees Celsius on Saturday in Baghdad and 50 degrees in Basra, in the far south, according to what the country’s Meteorological Department reported.
In the summer of 2022, the water level of the Tigris River was very low in Baghdad, prompting Agence France-Presse to photograph young men playing volleyball in the middle of the river.
The Ministry of Water Resources at the time attributed this to “sand sediments” that were no longer transported downstream, and instead accumulated in the river bed.
Taha Adi comes from a family of fishermen. To support his family, he now offers recreational boat trips and does odd jobs.
“There is no water,” he said. “Over the past two years, the drought has gotten worse,” the 34-year-old added.
Uday said he remembers a time when the water level in Adhamiya was so high that it reached the steps of his family’s home.
“My father and uncles used to tell me how they tied up their boat close to home,” he said.
He added that now “people can cross the river on foot, from one bank to the other” in certain areas.
© 2023 Agence France-Presse