Iraq’s environment on verge of disaster as new sandstorms hit

Iraq’s environment on verge of disaster as new sandstorms hit
3 min read
13 June, 2022
Iraq has reached a dangerous stage with direct consequences from environmental pollution, experts and officials warn. 
Iraq has reached a dangerous stage with direct consequences from environmental pollution, experts and officials warn. [Dana Taib Menmy/TNA]

As a new dust storm hit Iraq on Monday, Iraqi and Kurdish authorities have not only failed to tackle the environmental issues but rather "were the culprits in damaging the country's environment", environmental experts say.

According to the United Nations, Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country in the world affected by the climate crisis, which includes low rainfalls, repeated sandstorms, and increased desertification due to severe drought caused by dams built by neighbouring Iran and Turkey. 

The Iraqi weather commission announced on Sunday that a new sandstorm is expected to hit across the country on Monday and will last until Wednesday, Iraqi state media reported on Sunday.

In consequence, Baghdad and Najaf international airports temporarily halted flights because of Monday's storm.  

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At least nine major sandstorms have hit the country since April, causing schools and airports to be shut down and thousands of people hospitalised with respiratory health issues.

 Experts and officials warn that the situation is leading to a disaster in the coming years if urgent environmental plans are not initiated by the Iraqi authorities.  In April, Iraq's environment ministry warned that Iraq could face at least 300 dusty days a year by 2050.

"Authorities in Iraq and the Kurdistan region not only failed to challenge the environmental issues but rather indifferently were the culprits of damaging the country's environment. They have provided opportunities for the partisan companies as well as tycoons to continue with further altering the environment and making themselves rich at the cost of the country’s environment," Sarwar Qaradaghi, head of Kurdistan Nature Non-Governmental Organization told The New Arab.

"Consequently, environmental pollution has reached a dangerous stage with direct consequences such as forest damages, sandstorms, desertification, water shortages, environmental immigration, and a decrease in groundwater levels. Iraq is under great threats of a climate crisis, if urgent measures are not taken now, these consequences would even deteriorate in the coming years," Qaradaghi added. 

Kurdistan , environement
A contaminated stream with rubbish and sewage that flows into the Tanjiro River, south of Sulaimaniyah city.
[Dana Taib Menmy/TNA]

Qaradaghi also said that several factors are behind the environmental issues in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region, mainly drilling for oil, water shortages as Iran and Turkey are limiting the water flow from rivers pouring into Iraq, previous wars and the continuation of bombardments by both countries, an increase in digging deep water wells, the lack of recycling factories, increase of car numbers, and pollution of agricultural lands.  

In general, water, air, and soil pollution across Iraq are an imminent threat to the country's environment. Sewage and industrial rubbish are often directly dumped into the major rivers without filtration, polluting the region's two main sources for drinking water which are the Dukan and Darbandikhan lakes.  

"All our resources of drinking water are polluted. We have plans to establish infiltration units of sewage in the cities, but because of financial issues, the government might not be able to implement these projects for now," Abdul Razaq Khailani, spokesperson of the Kurdistan Region's Environment Board, told TNA.

"Although we have imposed a condition that 25 per cent of land in every new project should be kept for green areas, the green zone ratio in the Kurdistan region is about 12 per cent, which is below the international standards," Khailani added.  

The spokesperson further noted that they have good coordination with the Iraqi ministry of environment to tackle the environmental challenges.

"Since Iraq is a signatory of several international treaties by the UN on climate and environment issues, those treaties are also binding for the Kurdistan region as we are part of Iraq," he said.