Again: Basra opens doors of environmental pollution in Iraq

Again: Basra opens doors of environmental pollution in Iraq

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After Iraq was called in the past, “the land of Sawad ” for the intensity of vegetables, where the stream flows without ending, to be turned into a green paradise, now Mesopotamia is suffering from the expansion of the desert areas. The capital Baghdad and most of the Iraqi cities suffer from the problems of environmental change resulting from the neglect of the great environmental reality in the country, and perhaps the most prominent of these problems is the large number of dust storms that began to blow on the Iraqi cities in many times. In addition, air pollution rates have increased due to the proliferation of fuel burning sources, automobile exhausts, power generators and other industrial activities. There are also other causes of pollution such as the former Iraqi weapons factories in the time of the former regime and the sites of the Atomic Energy Agency and the use of various types of weapons and munitions during the wars. Air pollution and its quality are increasingly noticeable, while no initiatives have been made to reduce the levels of environmental pollutants in air.

War and armed conflict in Iraq over 40 years have caused millions of deaths and injuries. Its cruelty not only left its scars on the hearts of innocents, but the earth, water and air. Farms and forests were easy prey to the flames of conflict, as were factories, oil reservoirs and natural resources, whose destruction led to widespread pollution. The successive wars destroyed the country’s health system, damaged basic infrastructure, and weakened environmental management and control of industrial facilities and events .Plans developed after 2003 to address these problems have not been successful in achieving their objectives, for lack of resources, insecurity and widespread corruption. This has made the thorny environmental issues, such as toxic and radioactive waste, oil pollution and the loss of agricultural land, to decline in the hierarchy of a priority and remain largely neglected. The capital Baghdad and most of the Iraqi cities suffer from the problems of environmental change resulting from the neglect of the great environmental reality in the country, and perhaps the most prominent of these problems is the large number of dust storms that began to blow on the Iraqi cities in many times.

In the absence of accurate figures on the rate of pollution because of the lack of the relevant agencies in Iraq to the necessary equipment and expertise, recently an international report was issued on the Iraqi environment, prepared by a team of American researchers at the Center for War Studies in New York, USA. The report pointed out that the dust in Iraq contains 37 species of minerals with a serious impact on public health, in addition to 147 different types of bacteria and fungi that help spread diseases.

If the environment in the world is a major issue that attracts wide attention, its challenges and immediate repercussions are urgent in Iraq, as is happening today in the city of Basra, where thousands of citizens have suffered intestinal injuries due to water pollution by chemical, oil and biological wastes. There are anumber of causes that affect the safety of water, air and soil and have direct repercussions on the health of Iraqi citizens. this matter is not hidden where many of International organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNESCO and the International Food Organization (IOI) have issued reports highlighting the environmental degradation aspects of Iraq and the importance and vitality of responsible Iraqi government bodies to respond effectively to these environmental changes and in a harmony among the relevant Iraqi authorities , and to educate the Iraqi citizens through a community awareness program that starts from the family and the school in a procedure of a broad community activity. Achieving the task of preserving the environment in order to be safe, sound, green and accessible to all is a human right in Iraq, and it is the responsibility of all, the government and people and even future generations.

Pollution in Iraq is so high that in 2005, UNDP identified 60 hot spots requiring reform and rehabilitation, including five areas requiring immediate treatment. The cost of environmental degradation in 2008 was estimated at $ 8.7 billion, according to official figures. In the past 10 years, repeated dry seasons with low water flows in the Tigris and Euphrates, poor water resources management and unplanned urbanization have had a major impact on the salinity of agricultural land and the spread of Desertification and limited drinking water. In addition to deep economic and social crises, environmental problems have played an active role in preparing the conditions for the development of a new conflict over the past ten years, and on the forefront is the organization of ISIS
In a recent study by the British Government Foundation (DFID), it deals with the most important environmental phenomena in Iraq. The study relied on solid sources published inside and outside Iraq, as well as testimonies from civil society organizations and organizations interested in the Iraqi environment such as the Iraqi Environment and Health Association in the United Kingdom, PAX and UNEP. This was the subject of a lecture I gave at the Anglo-American Center in London on 25 August last, which was of an evaluative nature in which additions were made to address the shortcomings of the study, especially with the absence of solutions and treatments because they focused on describing the manifestations of environmental degradation in Iraq. The study dealt with important axes namely : Climate change, drought, water resources, danger of water scarcity, water resource management, salinity, groundwater, loss of biodiversity, Iraq’s marshes, marine pollution, pollution due to conflicts, contaminated sites and dangerous sites in Iraq, pollution due to the burning of Wells and expansion of the oil sector, rubble and waste, and the use of water as a weapon. The second axis was related to the scarcity of water, which reached an unprecedented situation in Iraq. Concerning water, Iraq depends primarily on rainwater and surface water, ie the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries, the Shatt Al Arab River and groundwater. The policies of the neighboring countries in the construction of giant projects of dams to irrigate large agricultural areas and to generate electricity, which was unilaterally without coordination and cooperation with the riparian countries, led to reduce the proportion of water reaching Iraq and led to a sharp decline in water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates and Shatt al – Arab and Unprecedented increase in the level of salinity in the Shatt al-Arab.
This is the current situation in Iraq, which in previous eras was part of the Fertile Crescent and the world’s food basket. Now it is suffering from drought, desertification and the reduction of arable land and is prone to dust storms. Basra and the southern provinces have been noticed by arid areas due to the death of palm trees, and the lack of vegetation cover in the ground and the excessive dredging of palms and orchards. The problem was compounded by the chemical and biological contamination of water as a result of the dumping of household waste and industrial waste in rivers and the non-liquidation and purification of water. Much has been written about the possible remedies for these challenges and the neglect of previous and current governments to clean and maintain channels and basins, modernize the irrigation system and methods, use modern irrigation methods, and monitor and accountability for the phenomenon of dumping waste and pollutants in rivers.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) recently issued a report on environmental issues in the areas recovered by «ISIS», especially the city of Mosul, the center of Nineveh province. A post-conflict team at UNEP conducted a field survey that focused on the pollution caused by the burning of oil wells in the Qayyarah area, the burning of the Mashraq Sulfur plantn , south of Mosul, and the leakage of persistent organic compounds used as condoms and cooling materials in power plants. The report also presented the environmental challenges posed by the enormous amounts of debris and waste, including asbestos observed at more than one site. The city of Ramadi is also one of the cities whose neighborhoods and infrastructure have suffered extensive destruction, as do the city of Fallujah, albeit to a lesser extent. In order to provide building materials for reconstruction, many municipalities are seeking to amend national legislation prohibiting the removal of gravel and sand from river basins. If it is achieved , the problem of the destruction of homes and structures will be a heavy burden on aquatic ecosystems, particularly in the Tigris River.
UNEP report also recorded the collapse of environmental management from the human aspect, as well as the destruction of facilities and laboratories belonging to the Directorate of Environment in Nineveh province and the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at the University of Mosul, and this means the impact on rehabilitation efforts and reconstruction. The report also pointed to the serious consequences of the use of water facilities by ISIS as a weapon of war and the dumping of land by dam water, which caused the deterioration of agricultural land and the creation of long-term social and economic problems.

In addition to the initial report by UNEP, the Dutch organization Pax published its report “Life under a Black Sky” at the third meeting of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), held in Nairobi in early December. The report is a summary of the data collected by the organization in the last three years, and includes all Iraqi territory, including the city of Mosul and its vicinity, which was limited by the UN report. The environmental issues discussed in the reports can be summarized in three main areas: oil pollution, damage to civilian installations, and side effects. The Iraqi environment was the silent victim of the “ISIS” gangs that targeted oil wells and dams. They followed the policy of scorched earth and systematic sabotage of the environment such as the burning of oil wells in Qayara, the sulfur factory in Mashraq and the Baiji refinery, and the establishment of crude oil refineries, and smuggling of oil to gain financial resources to fund its terrorist activities. Millions of tons of debris were also left in the liberated areas.
In terms of treatments and solutions, it is as follows: To create an effective administrative and institutional body that combines and coordinates the stakeholders with an organized effort to implement the strategies with a clear definition of the required human and financial resources and meet the requirements of sustainable green development, such as solar energy projects and construction of solar power plants , Electricity generation and use it in water desalination and its connection to the national electricity network .As well as the development of a pollution control institution and the adoption of policies for effective treatment, including the prevention of biological, microbial and chemical pollution such as laboratory waste or the use of leaded gasoline, and the reduction of organic compounds and dust due to transport and civil generators, sewage treatment, water purification and waste prevention in general and health in particular. Other tasks include conducting surveys and in specific time periods for water, air and soil especially in locations where there are military vehicles , providing modern equipment, and drawing up procedures to address the sources of radioactive contamination and their health consequences on the Iraqi citizen.
It is necessary to direct these treatments, especially if we know the seriousness of diseases caused by environmental pollution in various forms and they are as follows:
First – AIR POLLUTION:
1 – Leukemia and lung.
2 – Diseases of the liver.
3 – Diseases of the nervous system.
4 – Heart disease.
Second: Water Pollution:
1 – Kidney disease as kidney failure.
2. Urinary tract cancers such as bladder cancer.
3. Blood diseases and leukemia.
4 – Diseases of the digestive system.
Radiation pollution:
1. Skin cancer.
2 – eye diseases such as retinitis.
3 – Anemia, infertility, and a mutation in the embryos.
4. Burns, tumors and congenital malformations.
These diseases are mentioned above in the case of continuous increase in Iraq, in addition to the low rates of life in Iraqi society, in addition to the rise of chronic diseases that affect junior people and young people after it was infecting people at an advanced age

Iraqi Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies