Several dead, thousands flee homes in Iraq floods

A young boy crosses a flooded street in Baghdad. The northern Iraqi town of Shirqat was hit by flash floods on Friday. (AP Photo)
Updated 23 November 2018

Several dead, thousands flee homes in Iraq floods

  • Seven people died and thousands fled their homes in flash floods around the northern Iraqi town of Shirqat
  • Footage showed people in Salahuddin province, where Shirqat is located, escaping their half-submerged homes in small boats

Four children and three women were killed on Friday as heavy floods submerged thousands of homes in a district of northern Iraq, a local official said. Three other people were unaccounted for, said Ali Dawdah, the mayor of Al-Sharqat, a town 250 km north of Baghdad.

“Three thousand homes have been flooded,” and hundreds of families have fled, he added.

Lt. Gen. Jumaa Anad, head of the emergency operations room, said five people were still missing following the flash floods in Houreya village, outside of Al-Sharqat in the northern Salahuddin province. Anad said the village’s 4,000 residents have been evacuated after water levels rose to 2 meters. The flash floods also caused bridges to collapse.

The state news agency also reported floods in the southern province of Dhi Qar, saying that a house there collapsed killing two of its occupants.

Footage from the state-run Iraqi News Agency showed people escaping their half-submerged homes in small boats.

Iraq and neighboring countries have been hit by heavier-than-average rainfall in recent weeks, resulting in deaths and widespread material damage.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi announced Friday he was establishing a “crisis cell” of security forces and local authorities to coordinate a response.

It would be backed by “helicopters and heavy-duty vehicles will intervene as quickly as possible and carry out rescue operations,” his office said.

President Barham Salih expressed condolences to victims’ families on Twitter, calling it a “painful accident that reaffirms the necessity for reconstruction and (public) services.”

Iraq is one of the hottest countries on earth but when heavy rains do hit, they can result in floods because of deteriorating public infrastructure.

In 2015, 58 Iraqis were killed in floods and cases of electrocution due to intense downpours.

The floods, after unusually heavy and early rainfall in recent weeks, have piled more pressure on Iraq’s new government to provide services and fix infrastructure in provinces hard-hit by the 2014-17 war against Daesh, and by years of neglect that critics blame on corruption.


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 45 min 54 sec ago

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”