Tree-planting campaigns in Iraq aim to replenish parched land

As drought and dust storms ravage Iraq’s parched cities with increasing frequency, ordinary citizens launch tree-planting campaigns in an effort to stem the advance of desertification and incite the government Act.

In recent months, Iraqis have engaged in neighborhood tree-planting campaigns, both as individuals and as group efforts. They believe these actions are part of the response needed to address the damage caused by climate change in Iraq, the devastating effects of which are already deeply felt.

They hope their initiatives will spur government action and trigger official large-scale reforestation campaigns, which, in turn, hope to help combat the growing threats posed by increasingly frequent dust storms and rising temperatures. .

The desertification crisis is worsening

Desertification is seen as a major cause of both rising temperatures and increasingly violent dust storms that have plagued Iraq for two decades.

Government statistics show that 23,432,829 hectares (53.49% of the total area of ​​Iraq) are threatened by desertification. Officials suggest a colossal afforestation strategy – involving the planting of 11,700,000,000 trees – is needed to tackle the problem.

“They hope their initiatives will spur government action and trigger large-scale official reforestation campaigns, which in turn they hope will help combat the growing threats posed by increasingly frequent dust storms. and rising temperatures.

Currently, 15 percent of the total area of ​​Iraq is classified as being in a state of desertification. Ministry of Environment officials estimate that 300,000,000 trees should be planted as part of the first phase of a larger reforestation campaign, while acknowledging the huge obstacle to such a project posed by the shortage of water.

In March 2022, Iraqi authorities launched an initiative to plant one million fruit trees – including date palms, citrus fruits and others – in Iraqi cities.

Hamid al-Nayef, spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, said in a press release that the ministry supports the creation of a green belt around Baghdad and other governorates by providing tree saplings free of charge. perennials. He said that a joint campaign has been launched by the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers with civil society institutions to plant green areas in university campuses and on main roads.

Children plant a tree on the Northern Technical University campus in Mosul, Iraq. Iraqi volunteers have planted thousands of trees in cities across Iraq in a bid to tackle the escalating desertification crisis [Ismael Adnan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty]

However, Walid al-Jamili, an agricultural engineer and environmental activist, is not yet convinced by the government’s action. In conversation with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, the new Arab’In its sister publication in Arabic, it said: “Activists, citizens and environmental experts have repeatedly implored the authorities to play the role they should play in rescuing the environment, but no action is taken.

He pointed out that environmentalists, especially those with relevant skills and an interest in agriculture – such as engineers and farmers – were the ones taking an active role in revitalizing green spaces.

“We have sent several reports to local authorities and ministries demanding commitment to reforestation programs and that funds be earmarked for this purpose. However, all we get are promises that are not being implemented. , and if they are, they are weak and unsustainable.Any serious agricultural campaign must be preceded by well-defined and long-term plans to allow afforestation of specific areas, as well as careful attention to detail concerning planting and growth trees. and make sure they are able to grow properly.”

“Activists, citizens and environmental experts have repeatedly pleaded with the authorities to play the role they should play in safeguarding the environment, but no action is being taken”

Experts working with volunteers

Al-Jamili met with a group of engineers, farm owners and nurserymen. They encouraged residents of local neighborhoods to plant trees in their gardens, along sidewalks and in spaces in the middle of roads. Additionally, they were encouraged to grow seasonal plants outside shops, houses and on balconies, and wherever they could. He points out that “the response from citizens has been overwhelming, even though these campaigns are costing them money – they are paying for trees and seeds.”

Some nurseries support these campaigns by selling seedlings at reduced prices. Mehdi Hassan, who runs a nursery in Baghdad, says: “The owner of the nursery told me to go to places where I had seen people planting saplings and advise them on how to do it, the best places to put them and how to look after We have also reduced the prices of the saplings we sell by 50% or more.”

Environmental scientists in Iraq say the current lack of cultivated areas is the result of successive droughts. This is the result of lower seasonal rains, as well as less snowfall in the north of the country. These two factors have led to a decline in water reserves. Additionally, Turkey has restricted water flowing into Iraq via the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and Iran has also diverted water from rivers entering Iraq.

Government action is needed

An official from the Ministry of Agriculture (who preferred to remain anonymous) told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed: “The problem [of desertification] must be worked on both sides. First, sufficient funds must be allocated so that the country’s vegetation cover can be increased, and second, efforts must be made to reach an agreement with Iran on the reopening of blocked water flow in Iraqi rivers. He warned that without these solutions, “desertification will spread”.

Another issue raised in local reports relates to official military campaigns which have seen huge areas of ground cover razed. Security forces have systematically destroyed thousands of hectares of orchards and agricultural land in several regions while hunting down armed insurgents, turning these areas into wastelands.

Such environmental damage has played a role in rising temperatures and the incidence of dust storms, which caused one death and thousands of hospitalizations from suffocation in May this year, according to official health sources.

“Security forces have systematically destroyed thousands of hectares of orchards and agricultural land in several regions while hunting down armed insurgents, turning these areas into wastelands”

Dust storms hit the economy

Extreme weather conditions also cause major economic hardship. Saif Kamel owns six minibuses that provide public transport for several bus lines in Baghdad. He explained that the dust storms had brought everything to a standstill, including public transport. There was a month, he said, when buses couldn’t run for eight days. Every bus he owns has two drivers, which means 12 families have lost their income, he says.

The economic pressure ordinary Iraqis are under is the main driver of scattered but growing local efforts to find solutions. Zahra Fadel, a primary school teacher, says: “My husband owns a cafe and lost over 50% of his income during the dust storms and had to close the cafe. Other family members were also losing money. […]. The other teachers and I decided to launch a campaign to educate our students on the importance of agriculture, and we encouraged them to encourage their relatives to join voluntary planting initiatives.

“We planted seedlings inside schools and handed out leaflets to families urging them to grow plants in their gardens and in empty spaces near their homes as much as they could. I think the campaign has was a success.”

Greening urban spaces

Iraq once had many large green spaces and parks in and around its cities. However, severe economic hardship in recent decades has led people to seek alternative incomes, and Iraqis have achieved this by building small houses above their gardens that could be sold or rented out.

Nashwa Al Qaraghuli says: “My house was spacious, with a garden of 175 meters in the front and another small garden in the back. We planted all kinds of trees, plants and flowers, and my neighbors who also had large gardens did the same. helped reduce the intensity of summer heat, humidified the air and protected the environment by repelling wind and dust.”

“That was over ten years ago. Now we have all turned our gardens into homes because we need the money…and the government has no plans to provide new housing either. […]. But this had negative consequences like dust storms and temperature increase, as the cultivated spaces provided humidity to the air. »

Al Qaraghuli (62) says that because of these effects, she asked her children to plant trees on the sidewalk, and her neighbor did the same: “We also planted trees on the roofs of our houses to make them more beautiful. I also saw young people planting trees on the sides of the main roads. These are humanitarian and moral actions for our country, and I hope that these initiatives will encourage government agencies to set up major reforestation campaigns.

This is an edited translation of two articles from our Arabic edition.

The first was released on 6/17/22 and you can read it here.

The second was released on 6/21/22 and you can read it here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

These articles are taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and reflect the original editorial guidelines and reporting policies of the sources. Any requests for corrections or comments will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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