Iraq battles dust from marshes
Iraq is struggling to restore marshes which were deliberately dried out during Saddam Hussein's rule and continue to cause fierce sandstorms that pose serious health risks. Deputy Environment Minister Kamal Latif said that, despite efforts to restore the marshes, Iraq was likely to suffer from dusty weather for a majority of days over the next decade.
At present almost no week passes without dusty days, with frequent sandstorms powerful enough to disrupt driving, cause car accidents, halt flights and fill hospitals with patients suffering from breathing difficulties. "We used to have 10 to 15 sandstorms in late 1970s," Latif said in an interview. Sandstorms started to increase and become more severe after the wetlands were dried out by Saddam's government in the early 1990s to flush out rebels living there.
In 2008 there were 283 dusty days, including 122 sand storms, Latif said. "I expect we will reach 300 days of dusty and stormy weather per year during the coming 10 years if the circumstances stay as they are," he said, citing an increase in temperature and lack of rain keeping the marshes dry. The marshes in Iraq's south covered 9,000 square km (3,475 square miles) in the 1970s, but had shrunk to just 760 square km by 2002.
Latif said around 50 percent of the original area had been restored so far that was not enough to solve the problem. He said the marshes needed to be restored to 100 percent of their original coverage. Latif said there was also a need to create plant cover in desert areas of northwestern Iraq, to hold the soil and prevent sandstorms beginning there. In addition to human problems, the sandstorms have a huge impact on agriculture and damage turbines used for power generation, he said: "Three-hundred days a year means a catastrophe for the economy and human health."
(Reporting by Aseel Kami; Editing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook 0 comments Links to this post For Iraq, another enemy
Iraq’s government, already infamous for its lethargy and red tape that has snarled national progress, may soon shut down for much of the summertime. A proposed new law, which a parliamentary committee plans to discuss Sunday, aims to shorten workdays and help public employees avoid searing temperatures that commonly exceed 120 degrees and blanket the country during summer’s peak.
It will also cut work hours during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that begins in late July, Younadam Kanna, chairman of parliament’s labor and social affairs committee, said Saturday. But Iraq is already feeling the heat from its people and foreign partners.
Experts say its government largely has failed to overcome decades of war, sanctions and military occupation and settle into a new democratic system that delivers reliable security, electricity and other public services, or fosters job growth. Much of the government’s work has been slowed by a political crisis, fueled by ethnic and sectarian tensions, that flared immediately after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq last December and has produced demands for the Shiite prime minister’s ouster.
“The employees in our ministries are looking for any pretext to run away from their offices,” Jassim al-Obeidi, a real estate agent in Baghdad, said Saturday. “I think that this measure will add more delay to the work in the government offices, and the only damaged party will be the ordinary people who will have to spend more time and efforts trying to finish their paperwork for the government.”
Kanna, a member of parliament’s tiny Christian political coalition, said the new law should not significantly affect the government work. But he said it is still not decided how short workdays might be cut. He also declined to comment on whether it would apply to security forces, lawmakers or top ministry officials. “We think that the proposed measure is necessary for government employees, especially those who work in the streets, construction sites or open fields,” Kanna said Saturday.
“Working under high temperatures for a long time will definitely affect the health of the employees or workers.” Last week, the U.S.-based Fund for Peace ranked Iraq No. 9 on its annual Top Ten list of failed states worldwide. The nonpartisan research group ranked 178 nations and cited persisting security problems in Iraq, like the attacks that have killed more than 160 people so far this month, amid few improvements in soothing the long-standing ethnic and sectarian tensions.
Other groups highlight corruption as a key obstacle undercutting development and trust in state institutions. But Iraqis frequently complain that languid administration compounds the problems caused by instability and corruption. Like many Muslim countries, official work in Iraq usually grinds to a halt during Ramadan, which this year begins July 20.
But the law would for the first time legalize the slowdown for the country’s government. Before then, parliament is trying to rush through votes on as many as 50 pieces of legislation that have been stalled for at least since the beginning of the year. Laws to divide oil revenues between the central government in Baghdad and Iraq’s self-rule Kurdish region, and settle boundaries for disputed lands in the country’s north, have languished for years.
Parliament’s major accomplishment so far this year was approval of Iraq’s $100 billion operating budget — which included $50 million to pay for pricey armored cars for each of the 325 lawmakers. Lawmakers earn an estimated $22,500 each month in salary and allowances for housing and security. In contrast, a midlevel government employee makes around $600 a month. Education ministry employee Abas al-Saadi welcomed the extra time, noting that “there are a lot of holidays in this country during the year and few more hours off will not hurt.”
“With the summer temperatures in this country and the constant electricity cutoffs, I think the law recommendation is positive and helpful for employees, especially those who want to fast during Ramadan,” he said. Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.