Iraq’s Tanjero River Polluted and Neglected

SULAIMANI, Kurdistan, Iraq, April 7, 2011 (ENS) – The Tanjero River, which runs southwest of the city of Sulaimani, was once a sizeable river flowing with clean water, but today it is reduced to a polluted stream filled with sewage, says the environmental group Nature Iraq.

Anna Bachmann of Nature Iraq says that a visit to the river conducted by the group last month turned up extensive impacts caused by in-stream gravel-mining, raw sewage and solid waste from the city of Sulaimani, and polluters burning electronic parts by the river to recover the metals they contain.

The Tanjero River in northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan (Photo by Anna Bachmann courtesy Nature Iraq)

Nature Iraq is initiating a new project to focus on finding solutions to these kinds of problems. The Upper Tigris Waterkeeper Project will act as a voice and advocate for rivers and the communities that depend upon them in the Upper Tigris Basin.

The Tanjero is a small river in the Upper Tigris Basin formed by linking two streams – Kani-Ban and Qiliasan – with other small tributaries. The river flows through the Tanjero Valley, which is used for agriculture and livestock raising.

Qiliasan is the major tributary, but it is an ephemeral stream, which sometimes disappears during the dry summer season, a situation worsened by the construction of an upstream dam.

In-stream gravel mining is a common occurrence not only in the Tanjero river but also throughout Iraqi river systems, Bachmann said, although it destroys riparian habitat and fisheries and causes erosion problems.

Sewage-amended farms of the Tanjero Valley (Photo by Omed Muhammad Mustafa)

In addition, Bachmann says, “The entire sewage load of the city is dumped into the river and then it is used to irrigate agricultural fields and water livestock around Sulaimani, Arbat, Said Sadiq and New Halabja, with each town and village adding their own contribution to the sewage and toxic load that the river carries.”

The river banks, along with many open spaces throughout the area, are used a dumping grounds for construction wastes, as well as industrial and municipal garbage, Nature Iraq members observed.

Men display the electronics they are burning on the banks of the Tanjero river. (Photo by Anna Bachmann courtesy Nature Iraq)

In addition, certain areas of the river are remote enough that many activities that would be banned from the city take place along its banks on a regular basis.

“Nature Iraq spoke with men who were burning transformers along the waters’ edge to obtain the metals they contained,” Bachmann said.

“Transformers are known to contain extremely toxic materials and the men were aware that this activity was not allowed within the city but the river area was away from prying eyes.”

The men working on the banks of the river were risking not only their own long-term health but the health of their own families and everyone living downstream, she said.

Sewage and persistent toxic chemicals polluting Iraqi waterways are an ongoing and increasing health threat of enormous significance both locally and for the country as a whole, warns Nature Iraq, an NGO which is accredited to the UN Environment Programme and Iraq’s only affiliate to Birdlife International.

“Ultimately,” said Bachmann, “Sulaimani and the cities and towns of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan must face up to the challenge of cleaning up their rivers and streams. Destruction of river habitats and functions for short-term benefits will leave all the people of Iraq poorer in the end.”

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