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.”

By John Lee.

Al Qubba Water Treatment Plant has been inaugurated in east Mosul, in cooperation with the local government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

According to the state-owned Emirates News Agency, the inauguration was attended by Mansour Marid, Governor of Mosul, and UNDP Officer of Northern Iraq Governorates Projects, who thanked the UAE for supporting the project.

The station is one of the largest in Nineveh Governorate, east Mosul, and will cover the needs of 75 percent of the region’s people, benefitting 750,000 individuals.

The station is one of 23 projects implemented by the UNDP in Iraq costing AED220 million (US$60 million), which are funded by the UAE.

These projects, which are estimated to benefit 1.2 million people, aim to restore local infrastructure and social facilities in the areas of health, electricity, water and housing, as well as provide job opportunities, build national capacities, empower women, develop local markets, and encourage refugees to return to their homes.

The UAE has provided humanitarian and development aid to Iraq worth AED2.63 billion ($716 million) between 2014 and October 2019.

(Source: Emirates News Agency)

From Peace to prosperity:

The Conference to find out what’s happening for Iraq business.

The Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) Autumn Conference in Dubai on December 8th is set against a backdrop of relative peace and security in Iraq, and the prospect of oil revenues surging through the economy is driving a wider range of business opportunities and a prospective 8% increase in GDP.

Peace is enabling the economy to diversify through the revenues that pay for a range of infrastructure projects. So this Autumn we are focusing on a range of sectors set to benefit from a stable Iraq: namely, Water, Transport and Logistics, Energy and Tech.

The recent protests have also spurred on Government reforms and incentives to drive employment, entrepreneurship and service diversity, and increase the volume of opportunity that lies ahead and the prospects for not just business-to-business but also a burgeoning consumer market.

The Iraqi Electricity Minister will likely be speaking about his reforms to open up the market to SME’s, training and new players. Other ministers including those from Construction and Transport are attending.

The recent announcement of a 10year tax-free period for SMEs in Iraq will also stimulate the Tech entrepreneur market and drive the uptake of engineering skills.

At this conference, we will discuss big-picture economics with Professor Frank Gunter (Lehigh University), Ahmed Tabaqchali (AFC Iraq Fund), and Simon Penny (UK Trade & Investment), who will address the economic backdrop in the Middle East, and the context for Iraq in particular.

The World Bank and Wood Plc will cover the water sector, while Rolls Royce, Basra Gateway Terminal (BGT), and Menzies will look at transport and logistics, and Iraq’s Electricity Minister, GE, Siemens and Enka will focus on energy.

Alongside the conference our Tech Forum brings experts on HealthTech and Educational Tech, including speakers from GE, Siemens Healthcare, KPMG, EY, Google and the British Council, among others.

While key opportunities will be outlined, the real opportunity for business is to meet the people directly involved in contracts and supply-chain opportunities. This is the place to do business, to network and to find out what’s happening in the Middle East’s most potentially dynamic market that is Iraq.

For further information and to find the latest updates on speakers – more are expected – please contact  london@webuildiraq.org or visit the website to register for tickets.

https://iraqbritainbusiness.org/event/autumn-conference-at-the-address-hotel-dubai

The year it’s all on the up…

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.”

By John Lee.

The Iraqi Government has announced new measures intended to stimulate job creation in the electricity distribution industry.

In a statement, it said:

Training courses lasting for 3 months or longer in the area of  maintenance of electrical transformers used in the electricity distribution sector in Iraq. The courses will be tailor-made for unemployed young people who do not have a university degree, but  who have completed their intermediate, secondary or technical education.

“Trainees will be paid a monthly allowance of 150,000 Iraqi dinars during the training course.

“Trainees who successfully complete the training course will be paid a monthly allowance of 250,000 Iraqi dinars for six months to help them develop further their skills.

 “Groups of trainees consisting of three people or more who wish to establish their own industrial workshops will be granted a loan. –

 “The Ministry of Electricity will contract these workshops as needed.

The move is the latest in a series of reforms announced by the government in response to continuing protests in the country.

(Source: Govt of Iraq)

By John Lee.

To improve living conditions for returnee populations living in newly liberated areas, UNOPS – with funding from the government of Japan – is helping to provide renewable energy and emergency waste disposal services in three Iraqi governorates.

“[This project] comes at a time when Iraq is counting on its friends to recover after its battle against ISIS and after the liberation of Iraqi territories,” said Mr. Istabraq Al shook, Deputy Minister of Iraq’s Ministry of Construction, Housing, Municipalities and Public Works at a recent handover ceremony.

“The UN and the people of Japan and its government showed a solid commitment to stand by Iraq during critical hard times and after the crisis. Today’s closing ceremony is a testimony of this commitment,” he added.

With a $3.1 million donation from the government of Japan, UNOPS procured solid waste machinery and provided specialized training to local authorities on modern waste disposal systems, better utilization of debris, and waste sorting and recycling.

UNOPS further installed solar systems – to help alleviate frequent electricity shortages – as well as street lights and water heaters in six health facilities in the governorates of Anbar, Diyala and Ninewa.

“I hope that this project helps to urgently restore basic services needed for daily lives, such as energy and waste disposal, and that the people in those liberated areas can restore and lead a stable life as quickly as possible,” said Mr. Naofumi Hashimoto, Ambassador of Japan to Iraq.

“UNOPS remains committed to supporting the government and the people of Iraq in addressing significant challenges the country is facing, and remains grateful to the people and government of Japan for their continued support to the people of Iraq,” said UNOPS Programme Advisor Ms. Huda Al-Ani.

Mr. Ahmed Shalash, Deputy Director General of Engineering Affairs at the Ministry of Health and Environment, and Mr. Abdul Qadir Al Dhakheel, General Director of Ninewa Municipality attended the handover ceremony held in Baghdad.

(Source: UNOPS)

By John Lee.

Two Baghdad-based companies have won contracts in Ramadi (pictured) with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS):

  1. Albir Company for General Contracts Ltd has won a contract worth $322,000 for the replacement and installation of storm water pumps and related accessories in Al Ramadi;
  2. Al Raneen Contracting Ltd has won a contract worth $810,470 for the replacement and installation of potable water pumps and related accessories in Al Ramadi.

(Source: UNGM)

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.”

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

Iraq poised for ambitious plan after Babylon listed by UNESCO

After 36 years of lobbying by Iraq, the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon was designated in JulyUNESCO World Heritage Site.

But this may mean even harder work for Baghdad and the local administration, which now have to implement a tough plan for the management and protection of the site that was the seat of successive empires under rulers such as Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar.

Click here to read the full article.