By Shelly Kittleson for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

Protests spread in oil-rich Basra as death toll rises

Repeated closures of Iraq’s key Umm Qasr port and intermittently blocked internet over the past almost two months have led to significant economic losses and suspicion in Iraq’s southernmost hub, as protests and outcry over the killing of unarmed demonstrators continue.

On Nov. 24, seven protesters were reported to have been killed and over 150 injured at the port when security forces apparently opened fire on demonstrators.

Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights reported only three deaths and said they had occurred during “violent clashes.”

Click here to read the full story.

(Picture credit: Ahmed Mahmoud)

By John Lee.

The Iraqi Ministry of Oil has reportedly announced that it will select a number of international investment companies to build five new refineries around the country:

  1. Kirkuk with a capacity of 70,000 barrels per day (bpd);
  2. Wasit capacity of 140,000 bpd;
  3. Nasiriyah capacity of 140,000 bpd;
  4. Basra card 140,000 bpd; and
  5. al-Faw capacity of 300,000 bpd.

According to Asharq Al-Awsat, the Ministry is financing Karbala refinery which is about 78 percent completed, and once it is fully constructed, it will provide about 9 million liters per day of high-quality gasoline, in addition to various oil derivatives in accordance with international standards.

(Source: Asharq Al-Awsat)

(Pictured: Baiji Oil Refinery)

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.

What’s Really Polluting Southern Iraq’s Most Important Waterway?

For years, fish and other marine life has been disappearing from the all-important Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra. This wide river at the southern end of Iraq is an important port, linking Iraq with the Persian gulf. It is a vital part of the local environment.

In the more recent past, there have been criticisms that the Shatt al-Arab is too polluted, radioactive and affected with bacterial diseases. Locals often ask why. But it’s not like there is a lack of knowledge about the various causes of this river’s life-threatening problems. A wide number of experts in the area have been studying the different types of pollution problems carefully for years.

Researcher Jabbar Hafez Jebur has conducted a number of studies on whether the Shatt al-Arab is radioactive, taking samples from  various contributing rivers. “The concentration of radioactive elements are within the permitted limits and do not require any action,” he told NIQASH.

The Shatt al-Arab is free of radioactivity, confirms Khajak Vartanian, a physicist with the southern Directorate of the Environment. “But,” he added, “there is growing chemical pollution.”

The concentrations of toxic metals like nickel, chromium, lead, zinc and cadmium can be measured on the water’s surface and in its sediments, says hydrologist Safaa al-Asadi, of the University of Basra’s geography department. There are low  concentrations of toxins spread evenly throughout the waterway.

“Yes, the river is contaminated with toxic minerals but their levels are still within the limits of daily use for irrigation and for aquatic survival,” al-Asadi explained. In fact, much of the pollution comes from the gas emissions in the atmosphere that result from oil extraction activities, he continued, as well as the pollutants issued by diesel generators. These pollutants, discharged into the air, end up in the river after it rains.

Where the various toxins end up depends very much on the tides in the Shatt al-Arab. Their location depends less on the discharge of industrial and domestic sewage, he notes, pointing out that man-made discharges directly into the river have less of an impact than those coming from the sky.

Basra’s Ministry of the Environment regularly monitors the amount of pollution in the waterways at various different points, says Ahmed Jassim Hanoun, director of the department for the protection of the environment at the ministry. Samples are taken regularly and tested, he adds.

Hanoun says his offices are concerned about the direct discharge of pollutants into the Shatt al-Arab and other nearby rivers. But he believes that one of the most important factors is the level of salinity, or salt, in the water.

No bacterial diseases were discovered in the waterways recently and Hanoun says this has a lot to do with the lower levels of salinity. Authorities have tried to ensure that more fresh water is released into the Shatt al-Arab to keep fresh water flowing, and prevent sea water from coming in from the ocean.

“What we noticed after periodic tests throughout 2019 is that the releases of fresh water from the Tigris river, coming from out of Maysan province, has meant that there is more resistance to the salt tongue coming in from the sea,” Hanoun said. The previous year, when there was not as much rainfall upriver, the Shatt al-Arab was a lot saltier and therefore more prone to bacterial growth.

“The department of water resources released 30 to 40 cubic meters [of fresh water] per second in 2018 but in 2019, it released more than 90 cubic meters per second,” Hanoun noted.

Besides the bacterial contamination, saline water from the sea and industrial and environmental pollution, there is another thing that isn’t helping, Hanoun points out: The number of submerged objects in the waterway.

His department has regularly asked the port authority to clear the waterways of the hundreds of objects there, he says.

“We are suffering because of the delay from the government,” says Khaled al-Talibi, a sea captain and head of a local mariners’ association. “The submerged items disrupt navigation in the harbour and change the way the sand and silt moves, which in turn causes a change in currents and reduces the flow of water to the river mouth.”

International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) has formally inaugurated two new berths which for the first time offer the port of Umm Qasr, Iraq’s main dry cargo port, the ability to handle container vessels of up to 14,000TEU.

The inauguration ceremony marked both the opening for business of the two new berths, Berths 25 and 26, and the completion of ICTSI’s overall USD250 million investment programme at its Basra Gateway Terminal (BGT).

Located in Umm Qasr’s North Port, BGT operates a high capacity container terminal together with specialised facilities for the handling of general cargo, ro-ro, dry bulk and project cargo for the oil and gas sector.

Earlier development included the construction of Berth 27, adjacent to the new berths, with the three berths now offering a combined continuous berth length of 600m. Design depth alongside Berths 25 and 26 is 14 meters.

The two new berths are extensively fitted out with state-of-the-art container handling equipment and I.T. systems. Three new quayside gantry cranes, each with an outreach of 56 meters and able to handle up to 21 rows of containers on the deck of a vessel, are installed on the quayside. On the landside seven new, six high stacking, rubber-tired gantries (RTGs) join three existing units bringing the total fleet to 10 RTGs.

A number of senior government officials attended the inauguration ceremony including Dr. Safaa Al-Fayyadh, Director General of the General Company for Ports of Iraq (GCPI) and Chief Atheal Abid Ali Salman, North Port Director, Umm Qasr, together with Enrique K. Razon, Chairman & President, ICTSI. Speaking at the time Mr Razon underlined:

“ICTSI’s completion of our multi-phase USD250 million investment programme highlights our commitment to Iraq and our readiness to meet the challenge of providing much needed, brand new, port infrastructure and handling technology. We are pleased,” he continued, “to lead the way for Umm Qasr to serve higher capacity container vessels, up to and including the so-called ‘New Panamax’ class (14,000TEU), and as  a result to open the door for cargo importers and exporters to benefit from substantial scale economies.”

BGT already receives direct calls from a number of shipping lines but traditionally these vessels have not been fully utilized due to draft limitations. The latest berth development removes this limitation plus encourages other shipping lines to introduce larger vessels with the resulting cost and efficiency benefits passing directly to cargo owners.

BGT has also undertaken, as part of its investment programme, a range of works that provided value-added services in addition to the core container handling and storage processes. Dedicated areas for reefer handling, export container stuffing and secure truck parking have been developed and currently a 10-hectare yard expansion is underway to cater for future growth.

Outside of the container sector BGT has also implemented significant investment into the terminal complex’s ro-ro facilities with this including dedicated warehousing and secure areas. Similarly, specialised handling services and facilities have been established to accommodate the efficient handling of project cargo for the oil and gas sector including secure open storage and warehousing.

Phillip Marsham, Chief Executive Officer, BGT said on the occasion of the inauguration:

“This is the start of a new era in Iraq’s Port industry. As Iraq’s economy continues to grow, it is imperative to create the necessary port capacity for the future. ICTSI is proud to lead the way in this field and to be the No 1 private sector investor in new port capacity supporting economic growth in Iraq.”

(Source: ICTSI)

By John Lee.

The Cabinet held its regular weekly meeting in Baghdad on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi.

It authorised the Ministries of Education, Higher Education and Scientific Research, other ministries, public bodies and local councils to recruit holders of post- graduate degrees, and to exempt this round of recruitment from applicable clauses in the 2019 Federal Budget. The exemption is for this year only.

The Cabinet approved a letter of intent from the Ministry of Oil, and authorised it to task Italian company ENI to carry out a project for the supply and installation of two desalination plants at Al-Baradiya in Basra Province with a capacity of 400 cubic meters per hour each, and for the amount of 24,965,768 US dollars.

The Cabinet discussed other policies on employment, housing and transport.

(Source: UN)

By John Lee.

South Korea’s Daewoo Engineering & Construction has reportedly won an $86 million order to build a prefabrication yard for a tunnel project at the new Al Faw Grand Port in Basra.

Under the deal with the General Company for Ports of Iraq (GCPI), Daewoo will complete the Khor Al-Zubair immersed tunnel prefabrication yard by October 2021.

According to Yonhap, the deal is the fourth construction project that the company has won in Iraq this year, bringing the total of contracts secured since March to $460 million.

(Source: Yonhap)

(Picture: Kim Hyung, President and CEO, Daewoo Engineering and Construction)

By John Lee.

Iraq Duty Free is reported to be in the process of securing approval to operate the first downtown duty free store in Iraq.

The project, to be located in Baghdad, is expected to begin early next year, and open in June 2020.

The company is also expanding at Basra International Airport and Kirkuk Airport.

More here.

(Source: TRBusiness)

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.”