23 November 2023 - Iraq

BASRA, IRAQ: Living in ‘one of the hottest places on earth’ – Photo essay shows how children survive drought, water shortages

Photo by Emily Garthwaite of children in Abu Al Khaseeb, Basra, Iraq

[Children in Abu Al-Khaseeb governorate, southern Iraq. [Emily Garthwaite/Save the Children]


BASRA, IRAQ, 23 November 2023 – Children living in one of the hottest places on earth say rising heat and water shortages are impacting their lives daily, with award-winning photographer Emily Garthwaite documenting their stories ahead of the COP28 summit.


Children living on the frontline of the climate crisis in southern Iraq’s governorate of Basra explain how drought and heatwaves on top of decades of conflict have forced their families to abandon farming after generations and how they fear for their futures.

Emily Garthwaite travelled to Basra to meet children and families whose livelihoods have been affected and to find out how they are coping.

Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country to water and food shortages and extreme temperatures, according to the United Nations. Drought has destroyed farmland in rural areas like the Abu Al-Khaseeb district in Basra, leaving communities with no income.  As the drought worsens, more livestock — often a crucially important source of income for rural families — fall ill and die, forcing thousands of people to be displaced multiple times.

More than 130,000 families have been displaced in Iraq as a result of drought, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Projections show that Iraq is expected to be the ‘hottest’ country in the region by 2050, with average temperature exceeding 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees Fahrenheit).


Families in southern Iraq have faced a combination of shocks over the years including an environment damaged by years of conflict and the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, sandstorms, heatwaves and droughts. This ‘perfect storm’ has impacted the quality of life of thousands of children. Child poverty rates are significantly higher in rural areas where children dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods are disproportionately affected by risks such as child labour. About 10% of children between 5-14 years old in these areas are engaged in child labour, as opposed to 30% in urban areas. The number is set to rise as a result of climate displacement and crop failure.


These are the stories of three families trying to adapt to the climate crisis in Iraq.


Ahmed’s* story: “If our animals continue to die, I might have to drop out of school.”