In pictures: Shy campaigns for Iraqi youth to protect the environment

Baghdad – Iraq – (AFP)

The Iraqi young woman, Russell, is busy picking up plastic waste from the banks of the Tigris River, which divides the Iraqi capital, Baghdad into two, as part of a cleaning campaign carried out by young volunteers in a country that suffers from the spread of waste and lacks modern methods of treating it.

Rasul, along with two hundred other volunteers, participates in the “Ambassadors of Cleanliness” initiative, whose mission is not limited to ridding the city of garbage; It has also raised environmental awareness in a city whose streets and historic river have become like a dumping ground for plastic waste and other waste that is highly harmful to the environment, similar to other regions in the country.

Russell, who preferred not to reveal her full name, is a 19-year-old university student who is participating for the first time in this initiative: “The goal of my participation is to make my city more beautiful. I hate seeing the bank of this river in this way. We want to change this reality.”

This cleaning operation was concentrated under the Imams Bridge that separates Kadhimiya and Adhamiya, two of the oldest neighborhoods of old Baghdad.

In the days following public holidays, the banks of the Tigris, whose green spaces are popular with families and groups of friends, are filled with drink cans, plastic bags or plastic hookah pipes, and waste often ends up directly in the river.

“This is the first time that this area has been cleaned since 2003,” said one of Adhamiya residents, delighted to see the participants from different neighborhoods of Baghdad.

Plastic, nylon and cork

Ali, a 19-year-old university student, who is one of the organizers of this eighth campaign in the framework of the initiative, says: “The first objective of it is to raise awareness and spread a message that there are young people who help and provide support to clean their country.”

Ali, who also preferred not to reveal his full identity, points out that the most waste that volunteers find is “plastic, nylon, and cork.” The municipality provided garbage compactors for this campaign to transport it to landfills.

The plastic cans end up in the Tigris River, which is facing a sharp decline in its level due to frequent droughts and upstream dams in Turkey. Downstream, this waste ends up in the Gulf, with dire consequences.

According to the United Nations, plastic bags block the breathing and stomach passages of hundreds of species, and turtles and dolphins often swallow them, believing that they are food for them.

After years of successive wars and conflicts, caring for waste has not been a priority for successive governments in Iraq, as Azzam Allwash, founder of the NGO Nature Iraq, explains to AFP.

Worldwide, only 10% of plastic waste is recycled, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. In Iraq, this waste sometimes ends up when it is collected in open dumps; where it is burned.

Oil-rich Iraq is devoid of waste recycling plants, some of which are landfilled near residential areas and others outside the cities.

Allwash explains that Iraq lacks mechanisms for waste collection and disposal in modern ways. There is no sanitary landfill, and plastic recycling is not economical.

toxic gases

There is no culture of waste sorting in Iraqi society, which further complicates the problem. As for the outskirts of the cities, they have become the scene of burning tons of waste, which creates clouds of smoke, especially in landfills, some of which are constantly burning. This is a source of pollution and the spread of diseases.

In this regard, Allwash says: “Burning leads to pollution in the air, which leads to a shortening of the average lifespan of Iraqis,” pointing out that the problem is that the state does not have the funds to build recycling projects.

The official of the “Takamul” project, funded by the US Agency for International Development, Haider Al-Abdali, warns of the emissions caused by organic waste from landfills.

He explains that these emissions cause cancerous diseases.

He adds, “The problem is that 60% of Iraqi household waste is organic, and when it decomposes, it turns into methane.” The solution to this organic waste is turning it into fertilizer.

Various toxic gases contribute to an increase in respiratory diseases and greenhouse gas emissions, a phenomenon that UN climate experts are concerned about.

The Ministry of Environment acknowledges this problem of waste incineration.

“Burning this waste in this way will undoubtedly generate waste and toxic gases that affect people’s lives and health,” Environment Minister Jassem al-Falahi said in an interview with the Iraqi News Agency.

Despite the campaigns launched recently by some young people, Allwash believes that awareness is still limited.

Amidst the cleaning dust, volunteer Ali says: “I feel sad, not just the Tigris; Rather, the whole of Iraq suffers from waste.” But he hopes these campaigns will raise people’s awareness, saying: “Some started not littering the street and started volunteering with us.”

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