This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The birds, flowers and buffalo are all returning, thanks to heavy rains last winter. Now, locals say, federal funds are needed to improve infrastructure and state services, and to guard against potential flooding.

“I had lost all hope,” says Sawadi Najim, a 54-year-old local of the Jabayesh marshes in southern Iraq. “I thought I was going to see this beautiful place become a desert.”

The drought started in 2012 in Iraq’s famed southern marshes and reached its dry peak around 2015. People lost their businesses and their homes, says Najim, who was forced to leave the area he was born and raised in two years ago. His ten buffaloes went blind, then died of hunger and thirst. “I used to depend on them to make my living,” explains Najim, who moved to the city. “And I also had to stop fishing when the water levels dropped.”

Jabayesh lies about 95 kilometres east of Nasiriya, the capital of Dhi Qar province and covers an area of about 600 square kilometres. The marshes were drained by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, in the 1990s in an attempt to starve revolutionary Iraqis out of the area and even though waterways were unblocked after 2003, the marshes – home to unique birds, fish and plants as well as farmers and fishermen – have never been the same since. More recently it has been nature that has been an enemy of the marshes.

But, critics suggest, man-made mismanagement of water resources has also played a part. “There’s been a lack of understanding about the seriousness of water management,” suggests Mohsen al-Shammari, a former federal minister of water. “Other useless issues” were the main obstacle to the work of the water ministry when he was in charge, al-Shammari suggests. Additionally there was no unified position on how to deal with Turkey and Iran and their damming practices because of internal political divisions, he notes. The fact that the extremist group known as the Islamic State had control of a major dam in Syria, and caused the level of the Euphrates river to fall, was certainly not helpful either.

But then came 2018 and the heavy winter rains that replenished the marshes. “Water levels are at about 80 percent,” Jassim al-Asadi, a senior manager with Nature Iraq, an local conservation organisation, reports. “In the past, they were at 20 percent, at best.”

The streams and rivers that feed the marshes have been almost full since last winter and the Haditha dam has also been able to release water into them, al-Asadi says. In fact, while locals no longer need be concerned about drought, they should be worried about potential flooding this winter if there is similar or more rainfall, he cautioned.

The Ministry of Water Resources has already been digging trenches that would drain any excess floodwater from dams into the marshes, al-Asadi adds.

For now, the marshes are once again teeming with life. Buffalo herders like Najim have been able to return home, as have fishermen and the craftspeople who use the marsh reeds to produce goods for sale. There has also been an increase in visitors coming to the marshes and boat and restaurant operators are also thriving.

“Thanks to low salinity levels in the water, we have more plant and animal diversity too,” al-Asadi says. Fish species that were thought to have died out have returned, birds are migrating from Europe for the first time in years and water lilies are also growing in greater numbers than ever before.

What the marshes need now is better management, locals say. Since 2016, the marshes have been on UNESCO’s World Heritage list but because of the security crisis caused by the extremist Islamic State group, the federal government had no time to concern itself with tourist facilities or the provision of state services in this area.

However Iraq’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, Abdulamir Hamdani, says that this year around IQD15 billion (around US$12 million) has been allocated in the federal budget to work on infrastructure projects in and around the marshes.

That includes a 37.5 hectare centre for tourist accommodation, which will include a museum focused on the nature and culture of the marshes. After construction is finished the project will also be offered up to investors. “We need to go into partnership with the private sector, the same way other countries do,” Hamdani told NIQASH.

Before any of that happens though, local man Sawadi Najim is just happy to be home. “I feel healthy and happy, “ he says. “I have rebuilt my house [his traditional-style house is made out of reeds and floats on the water] and I look out and see birds and buffaloes bathing in the water. The fishermen have started to return,” he noted, satisfied, ”and soon the sons of my tribe will be back too.”

Today on World Food Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) renewed their commitment to supporting the government of Iraq in ensuring that all Iraqis have food security by 2030, with a focus on nutritious food and sustainable livelihoods.

“World Food Day is when we confirm and work to achieve our commitment towards Zero Hunger. In Iraq, FAO will be further cooperating with WFP to provide capacity development and rural income generation programmes for farmers.

FAO is supporting the rehabilitation of water infrastructure, value chains development, the fishery sector and introducing smart agriculture practices in response to country priorities and climate change impact,” said FAO Representative in Iraq Dr. Salah El Hajj Hassan.

The 2019 Memorandum of Understanding between FAO and WFP fosters closer collaboration on longer-term initiatives. Activities will include restoring irrigation canals, instituting sustainable practices such as planting productive trees, and providing inputs such as seeds and tools.

Through such programmes, vulnerable people will receive an income, can get back to work following displacement due to conflict, and continue to farm and grow their own food.

As well as enhanced nutrition awareness for Iraqi citizens, in the coming year, climate change adaptation will be a priority so that communities are better able to recover from climate-related shocks. FAO and WFP are striving to build social cohesion through collective livelihoods rehabilitation. WFP recently reopened its office in Basra to help coordinate activities next year in the south, where vulnerability and poverty indicators are worst.

“In this rehabilitation phase, FAO and WFP are working on livelihoods projects to bring communities together, and contribute to improving long-term self-sufficiency,” said Abdirahman Meygag, WFP Iraq Representative. “We see our climate change adaptation activities as being crucial for food security and the country’s recovery.”

FAO and WFP will also share expertise on information management and assessments, for evidence-based programming that targets the most vulnerable. Programmes are designed together with the government, for and with communities. The two agencies will also coordinate with partners on livelihoods activities, to maximise income-generating opportunities for those in most need.

(Source: UN)

Summary of government measures to boost employment, address housing shortage and support low-income groups

Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi on Sunday chaired a meeting of the High Committee for the Distribution of Land.

The Committee reviewed preparations for the distribution of plots of land to low-income groups in Iraqi provinces, and the allocation of more land to build low-cost housing to families in need.

The meeting comes as the Iraqi government continues to implement a series of measures to meet the legitimate demands of recent protests and address the aspirations of the Iraqi people.

The measures include the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the attacks on protesters and the security forces during recent demonstrations, identify those responsible and bring them to justice.

The commission of inquiry comprises senior ministers, representatives of the security forces, the judiciary, the Human Rights Commission and Members of Parliament.

Key measures announced by the Iraqi government

The Iraqi government also announced several initiatives and new policies to boost employment opportunities for young Iraqis, address the housing shortage and provide additional support to low-income groups.

To create new job opportunities, the new measures include:

  • The launch of a three-month training scheme for 150,000 graduates and non-graduates who are currently unemployed but are able work. Trainees will receive a grant of 175,000 Iraqi dinars per month while in training and those who successfully complete the training programme will be offered jobs with several investment projects in Iraq. They will also be offered loans to start their own small and medium size businesses, and business-ready plots of land to start their own industrial projects.
  • Simplifying company registration procedures for owners of new businesses aged 18-35 years and exempting them from any associated fees.
  • Train unemployed young graduates and others wishing to start manufacturing projects, with successfully completing the training programme and wish to start a project receiving funding from the Central Bank of Iraq.
  • Activate the Facilitated Agricultural Credit Fund to provide lending to those who are unemployed but have been allocated land for cultivation.
  • The Ministry of Education to take the necessary measures to contract lecturers on various internship/volunteer programmes and submit a request for financing these measures to be included in the 2020 Federal Budget.
  • On 15/10/2019, the Ministry of Defence will begin receiving online applications from young Iraqis aged 18-25 who wish to join the Armed Forces.
  • The Ministries of Defence and Interior to take the necessary measures to reinstate qualified groups of employees who were dismissed from service.

To address the housing shortage, the measures include:

  • Begin a national house-building programme to build 100,000 housing units across all provinces.
  • The completion of the process to distribute 17,000 plots of land for housing purposes to low income-groups in Basra Province.
  • Directing the relevant authorities to begin accepting applications from low-income groups for the distribution of land plots as decreed by the Cabinet earlier.
  • The establishment of the High Committee for the Distribution of Land.

To support low-income groups, the measures include:

  • Provincial governors and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to provide lists of 600,000 in-need families so they can receive social security payments.
  • A grant of 175,000 Iraqi dinars per month to be paid to 150,000 citizens who are unemployed and are unable to work. The payment to continue for three months.

To support farmers, the measures include:

  • Cancelling any accumulated unpaid rent for farmers who lease land from the Ministry of Agriculture for the period up to 31/21/2019.

To ensure rapid implementation of these and other policies, the Cabinet directed the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers to establish committees in Iraqi provinces.

The committees will report regularly to the Prime Minister and submit their final reports no later than three months.

(Source: Govt of Iraq)

By John Lee.

Iraq has reportedly replaced the head of its state grain buying agency.

According to a document reviewed by Reuters, Naeem al-Maksousi was replaced by Hassanein Mahdi Elwan, but the reason for the change was not immediately clear.

The Iraqi grain board is responsible for billions of dollars worth of wheat and rice purchases each year to supply the country’s massive food rationing program.

(Source: Reuters)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Saleem al-Wazzan.

Drinking water in Basra has been found to contain a disastrous cocktail of bacteria, as well as too much salt. Although multiple causes for this are clear, officials don’t seem to be able to solve the problem.

“The hospital corridors were crowded and the beds all full, so people were lying in the corridors,” Basra student, Jassem Ali, recalls. “The emergency ward was also full and sometimes there were two people in the same bed. Medicine was also in short supply.”

But Ali isn’t talking about a war zone – he is recounting his experiences at a local hospital after he fell ill, thanks to drinking the local water. Ali was vomiting and had terrible diarrhoea, simply from drinking from the local supply. He couldn’t eat anything for a week, he said, because he couldn’t hold it in.

The hospital he was in had run out of drips for patients – the drips delivered nutrients and liquids directly to the bloodstream because like Ali, most people couldn’t eat anything. So many patients were having to try and drink the necessary nutrients.

His is not the only story like this. Local woman, Saja Hussein, says she doesn’t even use the water to brush her teeth now. She thinks she became ill from washing her hair and showering. While in the emergency ward, she saw another woman die, after vomiting continuously for hours. “I was so shocked,” she says. “I cannot forget her face, even now.”

It is suspected that poisoned water in this area has caused intestinal diseases in up to 118,000 people. It’s also one of the reasons why locals were protesting so violently – around 22 were killed and over 600 injured – in Basra, in the summer of 2018.

There are all kinds of causes for Basra’s increasingly poisoned water – most of them are well known. Mahkram Fadhil, an engineer at Basra’s water authority, believes that not enough fresh water is being released in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Usually fresh water from two large contributing rivers – the Euphrates and the Tigris – flushes out the river basin, which discharges into the sea. But the construction of large dams in upriver nations like Turkey, Iran and Syria, has led to a reduction of sweet water feeding into the basin and meant that the water here gets saltier, due to encroaching seawater.

“And the problem is that all the water sources used by our water purification stations depend on the Shatt al-Arab,” Fadhil explains. “The increasingly high salinity and the pollutants thrown into the waterways make it even worse.”

There’s also a lack of funding. “Since 2013, the department has lacked the money to provide chlorine for sterilization or to repair the older plants,” Fadhil noted.

There are 12 main water purification and pumping stations in Basra and dozens more smaller ones, up to an estimated 300 or so. Many are older, with some having been built decades ago and nearly all of them rely on water from the Shatt al-Arab. Others were built after 2003 but have never been fully operational, or operational at all, for reasons unknown. Even if they were all working to capacity though, it would be difficult for the plants to produce enough water – they can help to purify the water but they cannot desalinate it.

The locals and local businesses are far from blameless. Often there are no real legal deterrents to prevent factories from spewing pollution into the local waterways. Locals usually don’t pay their water bills either – it’s very hard to police the non-payers and most houses don’t have water meters anyway.

Samples of contaminated water were sent for testing, says Shukri al-Hassan, a marine science lecturer at Basra University. “The results confirmed the presence of all kinds of serious bacterial contamination, including cholera, E-Coli and giardia, among others.”

This nasty cocktail of bacteria was in samples from rivers branching off the Shatt al-Arab and reached right into the basin itself. This is despite the fact that the water samples were collected during the flood season, when the Shatt al-Arab’s levels are at their highest. However extra water didn’t seem to be enough to flush out the contaminants, al-Hassan noted, indicating just how serious and potentially long term this problem is.

Unfortunately, al-Hassan added, very few of the officials who read about these results appeared to care much about them. “I don’t think that the issue of water quality or pollution is high on anyone’s agenda,” he told NIQASH. “We haven’t really seen any moves to resolve this issue.”

According to government sources though, there is plenty going on. Reports suggest that there are hundreds of service-related projects underway, with a total budget of over US$3 billion. Of course, as always in Iraq, locals doubt whether the authorities can actually make some of these projects happen, given the fact that corruption and inefficiency is endemic.

Somewhat ironically there’s also a positive economic side to Basra’s water problems. It has given rise to thriving private sector specializing in water desalination and purification. There are thought to be around 200 such businesses – however most are not regulated or supervised for standards and cleanliness.

Local lawyer Hassan Salman says he bought a bottle of water provided by one of these private factories, only to find that it seemed to contain some sort of algae or fungi. He told NIQASH that he’d like to file a lawsuit against the responsible factory but that this is almost impossible, because there are so many factories and a lot of brands putting falsified labels on their water products.

Basically what Basra needs are some serious long-term strategies, local activist Haider Salam suggests. That could involve the construction of  a major desalination plant for making water potable, getting rid of inefficient old plants that no longer provide safe water and the building of new networks and pipelines.

“But local and central governments never think this way,” he argues. “Their focus is always on more urgent but also more temporary issues.”

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Mustafa Habib.

Many countries in the Middle East are experiencing climate change first-hand already, with rising temperatures in summers that were already infernally hot to begin with, and less rainfall in winter.

Nations in this region are drawing up contingency plans with huge budgets in order to cope with the impending, severe water shortages they know will come. But Iraq is not one of them.

Thanks to various crises, in both political and security terms, as well as the country’s ongoing struggle with corruption, Iraq could be one of the first nations in this region to really feel the impact of ever-increasing water shortages.

It’s also becoming even more of a foreign policy issue. Last week, Iraqi officials were supposed to sign a deal on sharing the waters of the Tigris river with Turkish counterparts, a deal that they described as “important”. The Tigris passes through Turkey before it gets to Iraq. But, seemingly without much notice, the Turkish government cancelled the meeting and apparently the agreement until further notice.

“A delegation from the ministry was scheduled to visit Turkey but the Turks have now told us they are not yet ready to sign such an agreement,” explains Mehdi Rasheed, who supervises Iraqi dams for the Ministry of Water Resources.

Iran is the other prominent player in Iraq’s water supply. While the Tigris passes through Turkey, the other major river in Iraq, the Euphrates, passes through Iran first. Iraq is downriver to both countries.

The problem is that both Iran and Turkey seem to have plans to deal with impending water crises by building huge dams to store water from the two rivers. In this case, Iraq is a victim.

A report from the Ministry of Water Resources suggests that over the past few years Iraq has lost around a third of the water it once had out of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Taking into account the impact of global warming, the ministry estimates that the country will have lost around half of the water it once had from out of these waterways soon.

Previously Iraq was using 33 billion cubic meters of water out of the Euphrates. Today it can only access 16 billion cubic meters. A similar situation impacts the Tigris.

And Iraq doesn’t have the huge finances or planning ability to undertake its own similar projects. Major construction like this requires a stable country without the levels of financial and administrative corruption that Iraq has. In Iraq, even paving a small road appears to take months, possibly even years, to finish.

During the previous government, headed by former prime minister Haider al-Abadi, a 20-year plan to address the country’s water problems was formulated in 2014. It would cost an estimated US$184 billion. However the security crisis sparked by the extremist group known as the Islamic State meant the plan never came to fruition.

The kind of fight for water being played out across international borders is also reflected in Iraqis’ daily lives. Water supplies are regularly cut off to private households during the day, in peak times, often between 11am and 9pm. According to a technician at the water ministry, around one-fifth of Iraqis used to have small, household water pumps at home. Although it’s hard to know how many citizens now have them, the [pumps have become ubiquitous in the last five years. A small water pump is now part of basic household equipment.

It seems that today there is almost no home – even in low-income areas – that doesn’t use its own pump. Sometimes the pumps don’t work – the pipelines are so dry that there’s nothing for them to bring up. Other times, these pumps are not used correctly and bring contaminated water into city pipelines – this makes the water problem even worse.

So now Iraqi households are competing to buy bigger and better water pumps for home use. Neighbours with smaller pumps are then unable to get water.

Another problem in Iraq is wastefulness when it comes to water supplies. There is no control over consumption and nobody pays water bills to the government, because there’s no way of tracking or tracing the debtors.

There’s simply not enough awareness about climate change and the possible, resulting water crisis, says Mazen al-Jibouri, a civil rights activist from Baghdad. “In most countries there are organizations and activists that focus on water pollution and supply. But in Iraq, everyone is preoccupied with security and service-related issues or freedom of expression.”

“We all know our country is going to be victim to droughts and the climate crisis,” al-Jibouri concluded. “But any response requires cooperation between the government the people. We need a big campaign to raise awareness – before it is too late.”

By John Lee.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has reportedly banned the import of grapes into the Kurdistan Region.

Rudaw quotes Hussein Hama Karim, KRG’s Agriculture and Water Resources spokesperson, as saying:

“The ban is to protect our domestic product … We will continue our efforts to completely ban the illegal import of products into the Region … Our domestic products must sell in the markets.”

More here.

(Source: Rudaw)

By John Lee.

Anpario plc, a UK- based producer and distributor of natural animal feed additives, has attributed sales growth of 23 percent in the Middle East and Africa region on strong performances in Iraq, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, driven by sales of its Orego-Stim® and Mastercube, its pellet binder.

In its interim results for the six months to 30 June 2019, the company said:

“Turkey continued to disappoint as a result of the economic situation there, but this is offset by strong sales to Iraq; a region whose animal nutrition capability is now recovering having been formerly dependent on supply from Turkey.”

(Source: Anpario)

Fruit prices plummeted considerably during the summer harvest season in the Kurdistan Region, so much so that the price of harvesting the fruits and transporting them to wholesale markets sometimes outweighs their sale price.

In the past, farmers used to dry these fruits and sell them that way to make a profit.

But nowadays, 95 percent of the dried fruit available in Kurdistan Region markets is imported, and this has discouraged local farmers from drying their fruits to avoid financial loss during the harvest season.

Click here to read the full story from Rudaw.