As if life was not bad enough for Adnan Kadhim – he lives in a slum where municipal authorities dump Baghdad’s rubbish – now someone is setting the waste on fire, making his children sick.
As the United Nations marks World Environment Day on Wednesday, Iraq is suffering a pollution crisis, with trash piling up across the country and thick clouds of smoke produced by inefficient factories hovering above Baghdad.
“The dirt, our children are sick, our families are sick. My daughter has asthma, and I had to take my family to the hospital last night. We had to go at 2 am to give her oxygen. What have we done wrong to deserve this?” asks the 48-year-old, with mountains of rubbish behind him.
No one in his unplanned neighborhood within Baghdad’s southeastern Zaafaraniya district knows who is setting the rubbish on fire, and their complaints to government and municipal authorities have fallen on deaf ears because they are technically not supposed to be living in the area.
“For about a week or ten days now we haven’t been able to sleep or work. We just sitting around because of this smoke, said Jabbar, a builder.
“Every day, it starts at sunset and doesn’t stop until the morning. You can see the tractors (shoveling trash) in front of you. We are being destroyed. We implored the government, and no one did anything, we went to the municipality and still nothing,” he added.
Officials say Iraq suffers from the lack of a formal waste management system, but that they are working on introducing one which they hope will alleviate the country’s numerous environmental hazards which also include pollution from oil production – Iraq is OPEC’s second-largest producer of crude oil – and other industries.
“I am sorry to say there are no hygienic official landfills. All what we have are unorganized areas for waste collection,” said Deputy Environment Minister Jassim Humadi. “We are working hard today to issue legislation establishing the National Center for Waste Management.”
Increasing pollution rates and other “environmental challenges” could be linked to rising rates of chronic diseases such as cancer and respiratory issues, as well as birth deformities, he said. Iraq is working with the international bodies on a plan to help it clean up, he added.
Change is Costly
Business owners say they are doing what they can to operate in a more environmentally-friendly manner but that it is too costly. The government needs to help them do so, they argue.
At a brick factory in Nahrawan, east Baghdad, ovens running on crude oil are releasing thick smoke, making it hard to breath, or see anything.
“Crude oil, if burned in an incorrect way, the way we burn it, of course has emissions. The new ovens which we are upgrading to will reduce these emissions by 60 percent, but that should not be the ceiling of our ambitions,” says Ali Rabeiy, the factory owner.
More environmentally-friendly ovens can fashion bricks and produce only 5 percent of the current harmful emissions, and some even produce none, he said, but they cost anywhere between 4 and 6 billion Iraqi dinars ($3.2-4.8 million), which is not financially feasible for a business like his.
Ahead of the 2019 Climate Action Summit, the United Nations, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Environment and Climate and Clean Air Coalition on Tuesday announced the clean air initiative and urged governments participation.
The announcement was made by Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit, here after two-day meetings with representatives of governments, business and civil society.
“The climate and the air pollution crisis are driven by the same factors and must be tackled by joint actions. The governments at all levels have both an urgent need and huge opportunity not only to address the climate crisis, but also to improve the health and save the lives of millions of people around the world, all while making progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said the Ambassador.
“We call on governments at all levels to step up to this challenge and bring powerful commitments and concrete plans to the upcoming Climate Action Summit,” de Alba said.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said, “Air pollution kills about 7 million people every year. Nine out of 10 people globally breathe the air that’s not fit for human use. We need to agree unequivocally on the need for a world free of air pollution.”
“We need all countries and cities to commit to meeting WHO standards for air quality,” he said. UN Secretary-General António Guterres is convening the Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23 and has called on the government, business and civil society leaders to bring bold actions and much greater ambition.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also attend the summit. The clean air initiative calls on national and sub-national governments to commit to achieving air quality that is safe for citizens, and to align climate change and air pollution policies by 2030.
According to the World Bank, air pollution costs the global economy around $5.11 trillion in welfare losses. In the 15 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, health impacts of pollution are estimated to be 4 per cent of the GDP.
Meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change, however, could save over 1 million lives a year by 2050 and yield health benefits worth $54.1 trillion, twice the costs of mitigation, through reduced air pollution alone.
Governments at all levels can join the initiative by committing to specific actions, including implementing air quality and climate change policies that will achieve the WHO ambient air quality guideline values. The initiative comprises implementing e-mobility and sustainable mobility policies and actions with the aim of making a decisive impact on road transport emissions. (IANS)