On 13-14 March 2021, the First International Water Conference, titled “Beneficial Planning and Management of Water Resources to Achieve Sustainability” was held by the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources in Baghdad. Among the participants, there was the Iraqi Minister of Planning on behalf of the Iraqi President Mustafa Al-Kazemi, Prince El Hassan Bin Talal from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Irena Vojackova-Sollorano, the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, the Turkish Presidency’s Special Representative to Iraq Veysel Eroglu, The Netherlands’ Special Envoy to Iraq, the US Ambassador to Iraq, the Regional Head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Head of Iraq’s Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture, Water and Marshlands as well as FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu. Apart from these, several ministers responsible for water affairs from Arab League countries, including the Egyptian Irrigation Minister, and interested parties from the private sector attended sessions of the conference. The aim of the conference was announced as discussing ways to cope with challenges related to water scarcity, exchanging know-how about water source management, promoting sharing of modern technologies, and raising awareness on water conservation.
Speaking at the opening session of the conference, UN Representative Irena Vojackova-Sollorano highlighted the importance of water not for only Iraqi citizens but also for the sake of peace, sustainable development, and future prosperity in the region. Vojackova-Sollorano also stressed that water must be a source of cooperation instead of conflict. In her speech, she also called for immediate action to enhance water resource management. Similar to the UN representative, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Dr. Qu Dongyu emphasized the importance of water and its meaning for agri-food systems. Addressing the conference virtually, Dr. Dongyu drew attention to three concepts to cope with water scarcity in Iraq as well as in the region: governance, innovation, and capacity development. To implement these concepts, involving all stakeholders, including national and regional authorities, civil society, academia, and the private sector, in the process is essential, he added.
Holding the floor on the second day of the conference, the Egyptian Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati touched upon the issues with Ethiopia and Sudan within the scope of disagreement about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Minister Abdel-Ati emphasized the importance of reaching a legally binding agreement to resolve the issues about the Ethiopian dam. According to his statement, such an agreement would contribute to cooperation and integration as well as attract investments that boost countries’ developments located in the Nile basin. He also reiterated his country’s willingness to cooperate with countries in the region on related issues. However, Egypt is against any unilateral step that was taken by upstream countries contrary to the interests of the downstream countries, Minister Abdel-Ati added.
On the other hand, spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources, Ali Radi, explained, in his statement given to the local media, his country’s motivation in the conference as creating public opinion to support the Iraqi stance and discussing issues with the neighboring countries, namely Turkey and Iran. Apart from this, the Iraqi Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Rashid, announced in his statement given to the Official News Agency, quoting from the Turkish Special Envoy, that the Turkish parliament approved a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding water sharing between Iraq and Turkey.
Speaking to Iraqi media, Turkish Ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Yıldız, on the other hand, expressed his country’s greatness for gathering such a conference. The Ambassador stated that Turkey’s stance regarding water sharing with Iraq is based on fundamental agreements, including an action plan and MoU. Turkey has acted in accordance with these documents, he added. He also highlighted that the water issue has never been a matter of negotiation from the Turkish perspective, referring to cutting water supply to Iraq. This situation reflects the Turkish understanding regarding the issue. Therefore, the common use of water underpins the understanding of Turkey about the issue. The water issue is not only a matter between Turkey and Iraq but also within the neighboring countries, the Ambassador added. Turkey attended to the two-day conference with a large delegation comprising of high-level officials.