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ICC Note: A combination of failed rains and infrastructure damaged by ISIS has left the land of the Nineveh Plains literally dying of thirst. The traditional homeland of Iraq’s Christians is also Iraq’s agricultural heartland, which has essentially dried out over the summer because of a lack of water. Many returning displaced residents find themselves unable to irrigate their farms, their main source of income, and lacking access to reliable drinking water. It is a crisis with massive implications for the whole of Iraq.

07/26/2018 Iraq (Reuters) – One day in June, a giant irrigation pump deep in the Mosul Dam Lake sputtered briefly into life. The successful test brought a rare moment of celebration for the facility’s supervisor, Assem Abdel Rahman, and his small team of engineers from Iraq’s Water Resources Ministry.

The pump had lain idle since 2014, when Islamic State fighters swept into Nineveh, then a lush province capable of producing almost a quarter of Iraq’s wheat. When Iraqi forces and their allies drove out the militants three years later, the pump was out of action and the irrigation canals it supplied were in ruins. That June test showed there was hope for the pump, at least.

“If you could have seen this area before, it was full of green as far as your eyes could see,” said Abdel Rahman, gesturing towards the barren land.

Getting the pump to work is only a beginning. This year the rains failed, too, and a new Turkish dam threatens to reduce flows from the Tigris River into the Mosul Dam Lake. Nineveh is becoming a dust bowl, and farmers, who came home after Islamic State fled, say they feel abandoned by Iraq’s leaders.

Hani Habib Youhanna, a farmer from the Christian town of Qaraqosh, said he had poured his savings into planting wheat on his 125 hectares of land this year, but the crop was disastrous. “Support? There is no support from the government here at all. No irrigation, just nothing,” he said.

His complaints are echoed across a country overwhelmed by the cost of rebuilding from its war with Islamic State and struggling with water shortages that have led to street protests this year. Much of the city of Mosul, 30 km to the northwest of Qaraqosh, is still rubble more than a year after the militants were expelled. In Iraq’s long-neglected south, there have been angry demonstrations over water shortages. The government has promised to release funds to help. It estimates the total cost of Iraq’s reconstruction at $88 billion.

Nineveh’s farmers say for them time is running out. In interviews, a dozen farmers and grain traders said government wheat production forecasts for 2018 were hopelessly optimistic. Some farmers said they were considering leaving the land. Others have joined local militias to get a regular wage.

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