Lake Sawa, in Iraq, dried up this year, as a result of poor water resource management, neglect by the government and climate change, informs Associated Press.
Lake Sawa is an endorheic lake in the governorate of Muthanna near the Euphrates River and the city of Samawa, 4.5 km long and 1.8 km wide. The lake is fed by groundwater through cracks and fissures, and rainfall. This is an arid region and the water level in the lake used to fluctuate between dry and wet seasons, but didn’t dry up because of the balance between water feed and evaporation.
The lake is centuries-old and was mentioned in some old Islamic text; every year thousands of religious tourists used to bathe in its holy waters. Known as “the pearl of the south”, the lake’s water contains minerals considered beneficial for skin health by locals.
Lake Sawa is one more victim of the water crisis in Iraq. Climate change has led to low rainfall and drought. In addition, water infrastructure has degraded due to neglect, and dams in upstream countries have reduced the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Muthanna is one of the country’s poorest provinces, where economic development has been held back by a history of conflict and sanctions. Water stress results in competition for water resources among businessmen, farmers and herders. Illegal wells withdraw lake water for nearby factories which can no longer rely on the decreasing waters of the Euphrates. Wells also draw water to extract salt used in various industries. The authorities could have protected the lake by enforcing the closure of illegal wells, but the move would have been against the economic interests of officials in the area.
Lake degradation started more than 10 years ago, but this year it disappeared for the first time. Laith Ali al-Obeidi, an environmental activist in southern Iraq, called it “a case study for climate change in Iraq”. And the future looks grim, with alarming predictions of water stress. In 2014 the lake was designated a Ramsar site. Plans to pave roads and walkways around the lake, electricity lines and water projects, to boost tourism in the area, never materialised.