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Majid Jafar, member of AFED’s Board of Trustees and Executive
Committee, was panelist at a conference on rebuilding of Iraq, organised by the
Atlantic Council in Washington. The conference, which gathered Arab and
international experts, discussed balancing global engagement and domestic
growth affecting the future of Iraq in an evolving landscape. At a session
dedicated to climate and environment challenges in Iraq, Jafar presented an
overview of the foremost problems and suggested recommendations, based on the
findings of various AFED reports. As CEO of Crescent Petroleum, a UAE-based
company with major projects in Iraq, mainly in the natural gas sector, he
discussed in detail the role of energy companies in securing a smooth
transition to clean energy. He explained that cutting methane emissions from
fossil fuels industry was a major challenge in Iraq, where flaring is an immediate
source of greenhouse gases.
Jafar sketched main environmental challenges in Iraq at present in three categories:
Drought and Water: In line with AFED’s conclusion that drought is the most immediate threat in the region, Iraq is suffering from its worst water shortage crisis in 80 years, and with an ongoing four-year drought aggravated by climate change the outlook is even worse. The water crisis plummeted to a low point in summer 2023 with the almost complete drying up of the marshlands – historically the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East. Euphrates River water levels in the marshlands (at Chibayish) in October 2023 have dropped to 0.5 meters where average levels in past years have been in the range of 1.6-1.7 meters. The drought’s implications on people’s livelihoods accentuating desertification and ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss cannot be overstated.
Water scarcity and drought are among major drivers of climate-related human mobility, which is already a reality in Iraq, especially in the south of the country which has experienced large movements of human flows over the last decade. As of June 2023, International Organization for Migration (IOM) recorded more than 83,000 individuals as displaced due to water scarcity, high salinity, and poor water quality across Iraq. While a 2021 study by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), found that in drought-affected areas, one in 15 households had a family member forced to migrate in search of work.
Pollution: Water, land and air pollution is a chronic challenge. Completely inadequate wastewater treatment – 5 million cubic meters of sewage is discharged per day – has effectively turned the Tigris and Euphrates rivers into “open sewers”. The lack of sanitary landfills (with sole exception of one facility in Kirkuk) is contaminating land and groundwater. Plastic waste is a major problem, and is clogging up the country’s extensive network of canals. Air pollution (PM, NOx, SOx) creates persistent smog across Iraq’s skies with serious long-term health impacts. The frequency and severity of sand and dust storms has been consistently intensifying. Pollution from the oil industry is a major problem with serious impacts on local communities and biodiversity. Iraq is consistently ranked amongst the top 2 global methane emitters – a potent greenhouse gas, due to extensive flaring and leaks. The situation, however, has been improving over the past 2 years with growing investments to capture the methane.
Conflict: Iraq’s difficult modern history with almost 50 years of continuous conflict has had a major environmental legacy. Targeting and torching of oil fields, mines and industrial facilities has created serious but localized pollution. The generation of over 55 million tons of debris from the ISIL conflict which destroyed over 60 towns and 1,500 village remains a major obstacle for the return of displaced persons.
PHOTO: Majid Jafar, right, talking alongside Dr. Mishkat Al-Moumin, Former Iraqi Minister of Environment and CEO of Envirolution, at a session moderated by Ahmed Al Qabany, Senior Climate Change Specialist at the World Bank