Demand Clean Air and Water for Iraq

Iraq’s historic and cultural treasures have been looted, its infrastructure destroyed, and Iraqis continue to face violence, persecution and harassment. Yet one area of damage that has been discussed very little since 2003 is the state of the environment in Iraq and its associated health risks. The location of the biblical Garden of Eden has been ravaged by large-scale pollution, some of which is caused by war, the rest by the lack of government regulations regarding where and how industrial waste is disposed of.

After eucalyptus and palm trees were chopped down for war after war, by Saddam’s government and then the American army, dust storms are now stronger than ever, and more frequent. Without electricity and in 100 F degree weather, Iraqis are unable to take shelter from sand storms even in their homes, where they need to keep windows open because of the heat, inviting the dust and respiratory hazards it causes. Hundreds of people flood emergency rooms which are no longer capable of helping them.

The pollution of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has caused a variety of health problems to people, from skin and kidney diseases to cholera. Sewage and chemical waste dumped in the rivers have also caused diseases among cattle and killed off crops and fish.

Below is a call to activists worldwide to work together to restore Iraq’s destroyed environment. Written by Burhan Almufti, an Iraqi environmental specialist, activist and writer, it was first published on July 3, 2009.  It has drawn the attention of Middle Eastern media and environmental activists across the globe. It is translated from the Arabic by Michele Henjum:

To All Those Concerned for the Future of the Earth’s Environment

For some time now the sky has rained fine red dust on the people of Iraq. The particles are so small they enter through the pores on the leaves of the trees and plants remaining in the dry Iraqi fields and kill what was left of the trees in the green belt, which is made up of the coniferous Cedar tree and the Eucalyptus with its delicate flowers. These areas have been destroyed or are being eliminated due to drought and the trees’ inability to photosynthesize after having been covered by a viscous layer of red dust.