Recycling to boost water security in climate-vulnerable Iraq

Politically Speaking
3 min readMar 22, 2024


Photo: UNAMI SCPIO / Sarmad al-Safy

Wastewater treatment plants are helping the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) save water and reduce its environmental footprint amid shrinking resources.

A joint UNAMI-UNICEF programme to recycle wastewater through advanced treatment technology at UN locations in Iraq could serve as a model in addressing freshwater scarcity due to the changing climate.

“Iraq is one of the countries most threatened by climate change, which is severely impacting water resources,” Harish Joshi, UNAMI’s Chief of Mission Support, told Politically Speaking. “Water supply is much less than the actual needs.”

Water insecurity represents the most critical climate-related emergency for Iraq, where the levels of the country’s main rivers, The Tigris and Euphrates, have dropped in recent years. By 2035, it is estimated that Iraq will have the capacity to meet only 15% of its water demands.

At the same time, 90% of Iraq’s rivers are polluted, and 7 million people are currently suffering from reduced access to water, representing a significant multiplier of threats to the country’s stability.

Water scarcity is also drying up wetlands in the south, driving families to leave their land and move to the cities.

Recycling water

“Our goal is to recycle our wastewater to produce water that can be used for technical and irrigation purposes,” Joshi explained, adding that the mission is setting up an automated irrigation system that will rely on the recycled water, instead of consuming freshwater.

“Our expectation, once the irrigation system is completed, is to save up to 53% in freshwater consumption in Baghdad,” Joshi said, adding that the overall investment of $1.16 million in the wastewater treatment plants in the four UN compounds within Iraq should be recovered over six years.

The plants, which have so far been used in testing capacities, were officially launched on 20 March 2024.

Photo: UNAMI SCPIO / Sarmad al-Safy

Fostering good relations

According to Joshi, UNAMI’s initiatives to reduce the mission’s carbon footprint and water consumption can provide an example to follow for both the local community and the other institutions in neighboring compounds.

“It is our intention to get our neighbors on board providing them with options to use the treated water for their irrigation purposes rather than leave it out in the river”, he explained, adding that this could encourage others to replicate the wastewater and other green projects carried out by the mission, from solid waste management to the use of solar panels.

UNAMI is also implementing other measures to save water. For instance, it installed 176 low flow faucets in the kitchens of the compound’s accommodation areas in Baghdad. The mission is also installing water meters to monitor consumption and is regularly raising awareness among staff about using water carefully.

“We’re very conscious that the Mission can set an example and show what is really possible,” Joshi concluded.



Politically Speaking

The online magazine of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs