Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Tigris River Boat Project

Now that I'm back in Baghdad, I need to hit the ground running! I've spoken about this project in a roundabout way and I thought I'd give folks a full description. I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas and concerns.

I. Purpose:
1. To visit and focus attention to the specific problems areas and hotspots on the Tigris River and discuss plans, solutions and funding for the river clean-up.
2. To bring public awareness to the river as well as to the larger water quality issues that face Iraq and to the variety of stakeholders invested in cleaning up the environment in Iraq.
3. To bring attention to Iraqi groups and individuals who are improving the environment in Iraq.
4. To discuss the opening of the entire river back to public use and access.

II. Project Description: Bring together various government, NGO, and public stakeholders who are concerned about the state of Iraq’s rivers to take a boat trip down the entire length on the Tigris River through the city of Baghdad. Ministry staff, members of Iraqi Environmental NGO’s, Media representatives, and Iraqi citizens would be invited to participate in the trip.

III. Background: The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow from the mountains of Turkey into Iraq. Before they converge just north of the southern city of Basra, the alluvial plane of these two great rivers comprises over a quarter of the surface area of Iraq. The Tigris River is 1146 miles long and is joined by five major tributaries (Zakko or eastern Tigris, the Great Zab (Zab Ala) the Lesser Zab (Zab Asfal), the Adhem and the Diyalah). In scripture, the Tigris is one of the rivers of Eden and it was know to the Prophet Daniel as “the Great River.”

According to the UN Environmental Program’s Desk Study on the Environment in Iraq (2003), the collapse of Iraq’s sewage treatment systems has led to the dumping of vast amounts of untreated, raw sewage (mixed with industrial wastes, which has no separate system) into Iraq’s waters. Much of these releases occur on the Tigris River in Baghdad, which also serves as the major source for drinking water for the city.

The problems of the Tigris River, as with many of the rivers and water bodies of Iraq, are grave. A ride upon the river through the city of Baghdad can give one the sense of the scale of the problems that Iraqis face in cleaning up the river. Problems with water quality, industrial waste, disease, biodiversity and water flows/access are easy to see on the Tigris in Baghdad but they are also emblematic of the larger environmental issues that the people of Iraq have inherited from decades of war, sanctions, and short-sighted, government policies.

Yet this Great River is anything but dead. Fish still swim in its waters and many individuals making their living on and by the river. Although the river landings and sides are characterized by floating trash and derelict boats, children still come down to swim its waters on hot days. Perhaps the sewage coming from the huge complex of medical buildings called the Medical city is tainted with more than just fecal matter and oil scum’s the surface near the power plant, but the river has been here for thousands of years.

Many of the ferrymen near the Al Ahrar Bridge have worked on the river for years and some remember the floating barges that would take people out for pleasure cruises on the river before the era of Saddam. During the regime of Saddam, large sections of the river were off limits to the citizens of Iraq. People could not come near the section of river that passes the Presidential Palace (now the headquarters of the CPA) located in the center of Baghdad. “I was once arrested for looking toward the Palace from my balcony,” said Ahmed, a resident of Karada Dakhil, which is across the river from the Palace. Ahmed now takes his fishing pole down to the river four times a week where formerly it would have been impossible for him to go. Though going to the river’s edge is now possible in some sections, boating the length of the river is still problematic due to the presence of Coalition military bases and the massive area in the city center known as the Green Zone (Presidential Palace complex and Military base). This trip will obtain special permission to boat the length of the river through Baghdad.

As CPA Administrator Paul Bremer noted in an address at the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works in April 2004, “modern urban life cannot long be sustained without clean water, and the cleanliness and public health benefits provided by sewage treatment and waste collection— are fundamental to civilized life.” It is the duty of the people of Iraq in partnership with concerned people, organization and governments all over the world to clean and protect the river and Iraq’s environment for the future.

IV. Known Hotspots & Problem Areas along the River (not inclusive)
1. Discharges from Rainwater stations (A1, T1, Pn, Al Masbah, Ts1)
2. Sewage Treatment plants
3. Medical City Outfalls
4. Dumping of demolition materials and refuse on the river edges
5. Burning of refuse on the river edges
6. Street run-off
7. Leaking sewage pipes
8. Industrial wastes
9. Dumping of toxins
10. Power Plant
11. Sewage and industrial wastes from the Diyalah River
12. Fishing practices (electro-shocking, dynamite fishing)
13. Exotic and invasive plant and animal species
14. River Access (between Jameriyah and Jadriyah Bridges, Military bases)
15. Shoreline development
16. Shoreline hardening
17. Poor or non-existing funding for on-going monitoring and clean-up
18. River flows

V. Timeline for the Project
May 10th – NGO Meeting at Ministry of Environment – Initial Presentation of Project to Dr. Ali Azziz, Deputy Minister of the MOE
May 14th – Pre-survey from 14th Ramadan Bridge to Jameriyah Bridge
May 25th – Agreement with Major Basim, Iraqi Police Headquarters
May 30th – Pre-survey from Jadriyah Bridge to Big Bridge
June 1st – Meeting with Governate Support Team
June 2nd – Meeting with Mr. Mahmoud, Ministry of Municipalities and public Works
June 10th – NGO Meeting at Ministry of Environment, NADEC Meeting
June 12th – Meeting at Municipality of Baghdad
June 13th – June 30th - interviews with officials from the Ministries of Public Works, Water Resources, Baghdad Water Authority, Baghdad Environment, Sewage Treatment plants, Medical City, Power Plant, Fisherman, Boatmen, Pre-survey from Big Bridge to mouth of Diyala River, etc.
July 1st – Determine final itinerary of trip
July 2nd – Press Release to local and international press
July 8th – Participants list given to Iraqi Police
July 10th – Tigris River Boat Trip 6AM – 12Noon
July 12th – Trip Review and Follow-up plan for stakeholders


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