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Iraq’s urgent environmental problems have been deferred in recent years. The fight for existence, a tenuous security situation, around 2.5 million internal refugees, and more than 2 million fugitive Iraqis in neighboring states (primarily in Syria and Jordan) force other issues aside. These include the disastrous water quality, war contamination sites such as the approximated 25 million mines (equivalent to one-quarter of all mines worldwide), and the problem of high cancer rates particularly in the south ascribed to depleted uranium from tank-breaking US munitions. An insufficient and overstrained sewage system contributes to the escalating situation. “We have inherited a terrible situation when it comes to the environment,” notes the Secretary of Environment, Narmin Othman.

There is an acute need for action but the state will have to set priorities. Particularly urgent are water and sewage system problems, air pollution due to traffic and the industry, and local disposal of waste. Secretary of Environment Othman also addresses the uranium problem and sees a huge challenge, if at all possible, in its removal. Depleted uranium was already employed in the so-called Second Gulf war as well as in 2003.

According to the World Bank, the quality of Iraq’s drinking water is in “steep decline.” Aside from causing health problems, this leads to rising costs in the water supply, soaring salinization of acreage, as well as to threats of ecological systems like the everglades in the south of Iraq. The World Bank names three core areas in need of action: untreated local and industrial sewage-water is supposedly introduced to rivers on a scale of one million cubic meters per day; water treatment plants are out of order or are only partially functioning; and industrial and local sewage-water is processed together. Moreover, acreage salinization, problems with fertilizer application alongside heavy metals, and organic pollution released by industrial plants, primarily from the metal processing sector, make matters worse.

Air pollution caused by traffic and industry is also a growing problem in the country. Conditions have worsened considerably since 1991. According to the World Bank, Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul are particularly affected. At present, a review of the situation is being carried out by gauging station measurements.

Local waste is threatening to suffocate Iraqi cities. As reported by the World Bank, Iraq had an efficient waste collection and disposal system before the war. Today, only parts of increasing amounts of waste are disposed of. In Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, with it’s 5 million inhabitants, only one-third of all residential waste is collected. The collections occur primarily in wealthier neighborhoods and at government buildings. Baghdad’s collected waste volume is estimated at 8.000 cubic meters per day. Professional disposal of medical waste produced by hospitals is not taking place either.
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