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Iraq's Shrinking Rivers Face Threat of Rampant Water Pollution

Photo: AFP

Iraq's iconic Tigris and Euphrates rivers are grappling with a severe pollution crisis, exacerbated by drought, upstream dams, and governmental negligence. The waterways, vital for the country's existence, are now suffocating under pollutants, including sewage and medical waste. The dire situation is particularly alarming in a nation where half the population lacks access to safe drinking water, according to UN data. Government institutions bear responsibility for this man-made disaster, with sewage networks and hospitals near rivers dumping significant amounts of untreated wastewater. Petrochemical factories, power plants, and agricultural drainage further contribute to the pollution.

The visibility of water pollution has reached alarming levels, underscoring the severity of the issue. In Baghdad's eastern suburbs, a pipe was filmed discharging green-colored water with a foul odor into the Diyala river. The overload on water treatment plants is evident, with Baghdad's two main facilities operating at twice their intended capacity. These plants, originally designed for a population of three to four million, now serve a city of at least nine million.

Iraq's water quality is deteriorating due to inadequate infrastructure, limited regulations, and poor public awareness, according to UNICEF. About two-thirds of industrial and household wastewater, totaling six million cubic meters daily, is discharged untreated into the rivers. Iraq's government is taking steps to address the issue, no longer approving projects that could cause pollution without water treatment provisions. A three-year plan aims to strengthen the water and sanitation system, providing safe drinking water, especially to vulnerable communities.

Collaborating with UNICEF, Baghdad's Medical City has inaugurated a water treatment plant, aiming to ease the burden on the city's overwhelmed treatment facilities. The facility, with initial units capable of treating 200 cubic meters of waste daily, intends to complete four additional units within two months.

Iraq, facing extreme water scarcity exacerbated by climate change effects, has suffered four consecutive years of withering drought. Upstream dams constructed by Iran and Turkey have lowered water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates, further impacting Iraq's water flow. The shortage of water has made traditional strategies, such as increasing river flow to dilute pollutants, increasingly challenging.

Despite ongoing challenges, Iraqi officials express hope for improvement in 2024, aiming to eliminate violations, particularly hospitals dumping untreated sewage and medical waste into the rivers. However, in the southern province of Dhi Qar, where water pollution is more severe, residents lament the dire situation, emphasizing the necessity to buy water as reliance on the once-thriving river becomes untenable.


Feb. 21, 2024 3:57 p.m. 2242

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