Iraq’s second largest lake drying up, turning up dead fish

Iraq’s Razzaza Lake was once a tourist attraction known for its beautiful scenery and an abundance of fish that locals depended on

ByThe Associated Press
February 22, 2022, 11:54 AM

KARBALA, Iraq -- Iraq’s Razzaza Lake was once a tourist attraction known for its beautiful scenery and an abundance of fish that locals depended on. Now, dead fish litter its shores and the once-fertile lands around it have turned into a barren desert.

One of Iraq’s largest lakes, the man-made Razzaza is seeing a significant decline in water levels and has been hit by pollution and high levels of salinity.

“During the 1980s and 1990s, the Razzaza Lake was a source of livelihood, it had fish including the yellowfin barbel, binni and carp because the water (level) was good,” says fisherman Saleh Abboud. “But now it has dried up.”

Razzaza Lake is the latest victim of a water crisis in Iraq, known as the “Land Between the Two Rivers” — the Tigris and the Euphrates. Upstream dams in Turkey, Syria and Iran have shrunk the rivers and their tributaries, seasonal rainfall has dropped and infrastructure has fallen into disrepair.

Hundreds of families used to rely on fishing the Razzaza for their livelihood. Now the number of dead fish that turns up is bigger than the number of live fish they can catch.

Razzaza Lake, also known as Lake Milh, Arabic for Salt Lake, is located between Iraq’s governorates of Anbar and Karbala. It's the second largest lake in Iraq and is part of a wide valley that includes the lakes of Habbaniyah, Tharthar and Bahr al-Najaf.

The lake was constructed as a measure to control floods in the Euphrates and to be used as huge reservoir for irrigation purposes. Iraqis and tourists frequented the lake as a recreational spot to cool down during Iraq’s hot summers.

Not anymore, with the lake getting smaller every year.

In recent years, it has been affected not only by the water shortage but by drought, neglect and increased evaporation during Iraq’s hot summers. It has also been hit by pollution due to the diversion of sewage water into the lake and the theft of water quotas allocated to it.

“The lake cannot be used for the purposes of operating water resources because we do not have sufficient quantities of water to boost the Razzaza Lake,” said Aoun Diab Abdullah, an adviser at the Ministry of Water Resources.

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