More Basra water crises unless Iraq government fixes ‘failures’

Plastic waste pile up near the shipwrecks at Shatt al-Arab river in Basra, Iraq July 19, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 22 July 2019

More Basra water crises unless Iraq government fixes ‘failures’

  • Nearly 120,000 people were hospitalized last summer after drinking polluted water
  • HRW slammed Iraqi officials as “short-sighted,” saying they had not properly communicated with citizens about the emergency at the time

BAGHDAD: Human Rights Watch on Monday warned of a repeat of last year’s deadly water crisis in Iraq’s oil-rich southern province of Basra unless authorities correct decades of management failures.
Nearly 120,000 people were hospitalized last summer after drinking polluted water, in a mass health crisis that sparked deadly protests against the dire state of public services.
In a damning report, HRW found the generally poor state of water quality was likely compounded by algae that rapidly spread last year in the Shatt Al-Arab waterway that runs through Basra and provides it with its primary water source.
It indicated that the algae, pollution and high salination could together have sparked the mass health crisis.
“These combined failures violate Basra residents’ rights to water, sanitation, health, information, and property guaranteed under international and national law,” it said.
HRW slammed Iraqi officials as “short-sighted,” saying they had not properly communicated with citizens about the emergency at the time, nor released the results of probes in the year since or dealt with underlying causes.
“While solving Basra’s water crisis will take serious planning, time, and money, it is possible to address so long as authorities take their responsibilities seriously,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s acting Middle East director.
“The alternative is deadly.”
The report relies on dozens of interviews with residents of Basra, experts and government officials as well as analysis of satellite imagery.
Those images revealed evidence of oil spills and algal bloom in the Shatt el-Arab and other waterways that contaminated the water which, when consumed, could cause abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.
Besides the direct health impact, the water crisis forced families to flee Basra in search of potable water, buy expensive bottled water or keep their children at home if there was no plumbing in schools.
With increasingly scarce water, climate change, pollution and poor water usage, “Basra will suffer from acute water crises in coming years in the absence of strategic solutions,” HRW warned.
It urged authorities compensate those affected and develop comprehensive strategies to prevent pollution and illegal water tapping.
It also said the government should create a health advisory system to keep citizens aware of water quality standards, impending crises and how to deal with them.
In July 2018, mass protests over corruption and government neglect erupted in Basra, swelling in the following weeks and eventually turning deadly, with 12 demonstrators killed.
Iraq is classified as the 12th most corrupt country in the world.


Trump dampens Macron optimism on Iran talks

Updated 2 min 8 sec ago

Trump dampens Macron optimism on Iran talks

BIARRITZ, France: US President Donald Trump appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran on Sunday, saying that while he was happy for President Emmanuel Macron to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions he would carry on with his own initiatives.
European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled his country out of Iran’s internationally-brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.
Macron, who has pushed mediation efforts in recent weeks to avoid a further deterioration in the region, had told LCI television that the G7 had agreed on joint action on Iran.
The French presidency said G7 leaders had even agreed that Macron should hold talks and pass on messages to Iran after they discussed the issue over dinner at a summit in southwestern France on Saturday evening.
However, Trump, who has pushed a maximum pressure policy on Iran, pushed back.
Asked if he had signed off on a statement that Macron intends to give on behalf of the G7 on Iran, Trump said:
“I haven’t discussed this. No I haven’t,” he told reporters, adding that Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were free to talk to Iran.
“We’ll do our own outreach, but, you know, I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.”
Macron, who has taken the lead to defuse tensions fearing that a collapse of the nuclear deal could set ablaze the Middle East, met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday. The aim was to discuss proposals that could ease the crisis, including the idea of reducing some US sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism.
Macron appeared to backtrack on his own team’s comments later, saying there was no formal mandate from the G7 leaders to pass a message to Iran.
Highlighting just how difficult agreeing on concrete measures between allies is, Macron said the leaders’ views had converged on not wanting Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb and ensuring peace and security in the Middle East.
He was supposed to discuss those ideas with Trump on the sidelines of the G7, which also comprises Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the EU.
“Everyone wants to avoid a conflict, Donald Trump was extremely clear on that point,” Macron told LCI.
“We have to continue to take initiatives and in the coming weeks that on the one hand there are no more Iranian decisions that contradict this objective and that we open new negotiations,” Macron said without giving details.
In response to the tougher US sanctions and what it says is the inability of European powers party to the deal — France, Britain and Germany, to compensate it for its lost oil revenue, Tehran has responded with a series of moves, including retreating from some of its commitments to limit its nuclear activity made under the deal.
The United States has made no indication it will ease any sanctions and it is unclear what kind of compensation mechanism Macron wants to offer Iran given at this stage a proposed trade channel for humanitarian and food exchanges with Iran is still not operational.
Macron has also said that in return for any concessions he would expect Iran to comply fully with the nuclear deal and for Iran to engage in new negotiations that would include its ballistic missile program and regional activities.