Developing Sustainable Solutions to Fighting Water Pollution and Environmental Degradation

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the UN Resolution 64/292 in which the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. Part of our dialogue programme ‘Clean Tigris’ seeks to defend this human right by connecting our Iraqi participants from various communities along the river.

Despite the challenges that Iraq is currently facing (new government, rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, travel restrictions, lockdowns, extreme heat , ongoing protests, and increased violence in cases such as the killing of terror expert Alhashimi in Baghdad or the abduction of the German cultural manager Hella Mewis) a core group of around 20 active participants from civil society, academia and environmental policy continue to meet virtually and develop sustainable solutions to fight water pollution and to improve the water management in Iraq.

And this is very important: in addition to the many challenges Iraq is facing, the country is plagued by massive environmental and water resource problems that threaten the fragile peace and social cohesion: Plastic waste, garbage and waste from the oil industry pollute the rivers and cause massive fish mortality in the Tigris and Euphrates. This deprives fishermen of their livelihood. Dams and droughts also reduce the water levels in Mesopotamia – the land between the two rivers. In particular, the valuable marshlands in southern Iraq are under severe threat. Water shortage and water pollution in al-Ahwar threaten the livelihoods of the Ma’dan (marsh Arabs) and their animals, forcing displacement and destroying biodiversity in the natural heritage.

Due to the global pandemic, travels to and inside Iraq are currently not possible and online workshops are a major challenge to a programme that is attempting to get different stakeholders into a dialogue. We believe that a sustainable dialogue is built on trust, which is usually also developed through the informal contact outside the official workshops, for example during coffee breaks and conversations at lunch time. The new situation is demanding from the entire Clean Tigris team and requires high flexibility and joint effort to establish a trusting relation with the participants nonetheless. In this regard, we have proposed discussions in smaller working groups in each virtual session, sharing informal mood polls to lift the spirits and laugh together and asked the participants to always share their ideas and thoughts in the chat, also during presentations.
During the first online workshop, Salman Khairalla ( a longtime advocate for environmental protection along the river) and law expert Mohamed Almosely dealt with legal national and international aspects of water and environmental protection, the shared competences between the federal and regional level and introduced the role of the environmental police in Iraq. The participants actively exchanged the challenges their cities are facing, and collected first propositions to sustainable solutions. As it is challenging to get officials involved in online workshops, a separate meeting with city majors and officials from different provinces of Iraq will be organized to learn more about the water challenges the communities are facing and to brainstorm approaches for solutions together.

The project is supported by the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) programme “zivik”, with funds from the German Federal Foreign Office.