Save the Marshes and the Tigris River

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Karzan Fadhil. July 14, 2012. Save the Marshes and the Tigris River was an inaugural conference held by the Civil Development Organization (CDO) to raise awareness of local residents about the dams that have been constructed on the borders between Iran-Iraq and Turkey-Iraq. The conference was held after a long time of exceeding the international laws of natural resources rights and water laws by Turkey. Many non-governmental organizations (NGO)s attended the conference and showed their concern about the dams, especially the Iliso dam, which is a project being built by Turkey on the Tigris River without any convention signed by Iraq or Turkey. If the Ilisu Dam is constructed, it will inundate the town of Hasankeyf, which is an ancient town rich with its history, including its villages and heritage that have existed for centuries.

Now, due to the Ilisu Dam the entire region is at risk of being submerged with the completion of the project. One thing that is worth mentioning is that European countries have stopped reinforcing the project since 2008 due to the disadvantages and the adverse effects of the project on Iraq and the villages where the dam is built, but some of the Middle Eastern countries that Iraq calls them “fraternal countries” or “neighboring countries” underpin the project of the Iliso dam and show support for it.

During the Conference, Dr. Azam Alwash, the director of Nature Iraq, gave a presentation about the dams and the devastating effects they have on Iraq and the nearby regions. He stated that if the Iliso dam is finished, farmers in Iraq will starve and most of the agricultural lands in Iraq will dry up. Subsequently, the dams that have been constructed by Iran on the rivers that flow down the mountains in Iraq were discussed. Furthermore, Iran has constructed nine dams on the rivers flowing through the regions of Iraq, so since Iran built the dams, the water of the rivers has decreased dramatically, and most of the rivers in Iraq have been dry, including the agricultural lands nearby the rivers. Consequently, at the end of the conference, the members of the NGOs decided to take all the necessary actions and preliminary steps to induce the international organizations to stop Turkey from building the Iliso dam.

The Green Music and Arts Festival in Sulaimani, Iraq

Although the Green Music and Arts Festival was on the 20th of April, our work in the Development Club started weeks before that. We began by sharing what each of us had in mind for the games that we needed to build for the festival. Our ideas had to be simple but at the same time they had to be creative.

We all had amazing ideas. The games had to be made from recycled materials to fit with the environmental theme, so we looked around campus for spare wood, cardboard, and plastic. We built the games, painted them and the results were perfect. Mr. Kevin practiced some songs with his Guitar Club students and they translated some verses of the song “Imagine” by John Lennon into Kurdish.

On the festival’s day, we started the preparations early in the morning, and it was lots of fun to prepare for it. We even played some games during the preparations. Azadi Park, where the festival was held, was a really beautiful place, and it was an ideal spot for students and teachers alike to gather and enjoy their time.

There were three hosts for the festival including myself, and the performances were presented by the hosts in English, Kurdish, and Arabic to enhance the ability of the audience to culturally relate to the performances and make a sense of cultural unity among the people. During the festival there was an elocution contest among the students of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. They each presented the same environmentally themed Kurdish poem that was translated into English. It was a really creative event overall, and it showed the students’ talents from different aspects.

One of the things I really enjoyed was drawing the American, Kurdish, and Iraqi flags on children’s faces and on adult’s faces too. It highlighted the cultural unity that brought us all together for one cause: helping our environment.

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Environmental March in Iraq

Participants marching through Sulaimani's Azadi Park

I dropped a grimy styrofoam cup into the burlap sack around my shoulder and took stock of what was going on all around me. Dozens of bikers were chatting as they slowly pedaled past me on my left side. A handful of local artists were holding banners and mock-hangman nooses nailed to 2-meter-long slats of wood ahead of me. A few children holding bamboo shoots scampered beside their parents as they picked up empty water bottles and cigarette butts off of Sulaimani’s main street, and surrounding the entire 200-person-strong entourage was a perimeter of stern-faced police officers marching in formation. A smirk slowly spread to an ear-to-ear smile as I saw with my own eyes the most meaningful experience of my two years in Iraq take place.

Dozens of participants rode bikes to demonstrate easy alternatives to fossil fuels

Climate Action Day Iraq was just one of hundreds of grassroots demonstrations that took place on September 24th, 2011. The umbrella organization which made the demonstration possible was 350.org, named after the upper limit ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere, past which the effects climate change becomes increasingly difficult to reverse, 350. Since co-founding AUI-S’ Development Club in March, I have been able to meet and work with dozens of local NGOs in Sulaimani working towards making their community a better place. When I floated the idea about an environmental march in Sulaimani out to my contacts in Suli-based NGOs, the response was encouraging; Nature Iraq, Development Now, Sulyon, Mercy Corps, and the Green Environment Group were committed to seeing this project take place.

Many of the participants held banners and slogans promoting environmental protection.

I’ll spare you accounts of the mind-numbingly inefficient trips back and forth from the governor’s office to the special police headquarters as organizers and I prepared official permission for the event. According to Nabil Musa, one of the organizers for Climate Action Day and a staff member of Nature Iraq, the process for getting approval for a demonstration has become much more difficult following the heated public anti-government demonstrations earlier this year. In preparation for the event, Nabil, Azar Othman from Sulyon and I scouted the bazaar in search of sponsors for the event. We were able to use dozens of planks of wood thanks to donations from local woodworkers. Local bike shops granted us reduced prices for renting 35 bikes for the day. Not only that but Zara Supermarket not only donated use of its garbage truck but also subsidized bamboo plants which we purchased for Climate Action Day Iraq participants.

It was inspiring to see so many groups of people work together on a project like this. Many of the development club students I had been working with for months took ownership of the issue of climate change in Iraq. A number of my students help prepare the banners and paint t-shirts before the event at Sulyon’s office. Amanj Saeed, the leader of the Green Environment Group wrote much of the initial proposal, which helped many of the organizations explain and fund the project through donors. Local and international media came out to film the event and interview participants, which were able to spread the message of environmental protection to many millions of viewers nationwide.

Have you been involved in this project? Please feel free to rate this project using the stars below and leave specific comments so that projects like this one can become more meaningful over time.

Climate Action Day Proposal

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Location: Suliamani, Iraq Purpose: Awareness of Climate change/ Environmental Protection Date: 24 September 2011 Description: Green environment group, Development Now, Sulyon Group , Iraq nature, Iraq upper Tigers Water keeper are organizing the project climate day action in Sulaimani city. Climate … Continue reading

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Waterkeeper

Nabil Musa, waterkeeper

Without water, life on earth wouldn’t exist. Bodies of water have not only made life possible, but throughout history they have shaped human culture. Sadly, the future of Iraq’s water is in a precarious position. Our community relies on water, and the future of a healthy water system in Iraq relies on Nabil Musa, Iraq’s first and only Waterkeeper.

On July 11, 2011, Mr. Nabil, who works as a Waterkeeper with the NGO (Non Governmental Organization) Nature Iraq visited Development Club, and gave an insightful presentation about water in Iraq. There are significant challenges facing water in the region including: poor planning, over pollution, unsafe drinking conditions, open sewage and little awareness of the severity of the problem. The work that Mr. Nabil is doing inspired me to get involved and spread his message with others.

A still from a short documentary produced by Nabil about the poor water conditions in Sulaimani

The global environmental Waterkeepers movement was championed by Robert Kennedy in the 1960′s, with the Hudson River as the first protected body of water. By raising awareness about pollution of the river and bringing major polluters to court, the past few decades have helped make the Hudson River a model ecosystem. The Waterkeepers protect more than 160,000 Km of rivers, streams, riversides, and coastlines in the world.

They are a grassroots organization, meaning that they use local resources to solve local problems. One of the short films that Mr. Nabil showed our group was a montage of problems that face Sulaimani’s Qeleyasan River. There were disturbing images of burnt tires on the banks of the stream, open sewage, and people washing their cars directly in the river. Many people are living without access to safe drinking water in Iraq and many water sources are becoming depleted in Iraq because of pollution, but the water keepers are doing their bests to reduce these problems firstly by raising awareness.

Development Club students watching a presentation on Iraq's water systems

One of the recent projects Mr. Nabil helped organize a trip to help clean the Qeleyasan River with some volunteers from AUI-S. In addition, the Waterkeepers have done many other projects  in Iraq like starting to organize trips to clean the Tanjero River, Zey Gawra and Zey Bechwk and Dukan River to name just a few. Remedying such problems is not easy by individuals or by small groups, so let’s work together, and let’s take care of the water sources to help protect our community, our water and our planet.

Have you been involved in this project? Please feel free to rate this project using the stars below and leave specific comments so that projects like this one can become more meaningful over time.

Qeleyasan river clean-up

Sections of the Qeleyasa river are badly polluted

A few weeks ago, I accompanied a group of approximately 20 volunteer students and teachers from the American University of Iraq- Sulaimani who went to Sulaimani’s Sarchinar district on a field trip. We went to clean up the Qeleyasa river which is considerably polluted and has major litter problems. The NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Nature Iraq helped organize the trip and taught the participants about the importance of protecting Iraq’s waterways.

Local farmers rely on the river to water their crops

 For me, it was an interesting and fun experience. Part of my enjoyment stemmed from the fact that we had such variety in our group. There were Americans, Kurdish and Arab Iraqis from diverse religious backgrounds who all worked together to clean up the river. Personally, participating in this project helped strengthen my resolve that people need to put more effort into saving our environment. We should make people aware of the size of this problem and strive to find solutions for it.

Have you been involved in this project? Please feel free to rate this project using the stars below and leave specific comments so that projects like this one can become more meaningful over time.