Hospitals in Basra inundated with cases linked to dirty water

Areas around the Shatt Al-Arab waterway in Basra province are among the worst effected by water contamination. (AFP)
Updated 28 August 2018

Hospitals in Basra inundated with cases linked to dirty water

  • Political and tribal leaders from the oil hub have threatened to obstruct crude exports if their demands are not met
  • More than 14,000 cases recorded in the past two weeks related to the consumption of unclean water

BAGHDAD: Hospitals in Basra have been flooded with thousands of patients suffering from drinking polluted and saline water as the province reels from the latest breakdown in basic services. 

Political and tribal leaders from the oil hub have threatened to obstruct crude exports and wage a campaign of civil disobedience if the government does not act to resolve the drastic shortage of clean drinking water. 

The crisis follows a summer of electricity shortages that sparked large protests across the south of the country, as the country is locked in a tense political stalemate over forming a government.

Health authorities in Basra said they have dealt with more than 14,000 cases in the past two weeks related to the consumption of unclean water. 

The quality of water in Basra, Iraq’s third most populous province, has deteriorated in recent months. Saline levels have increased as the quantity of water flowing down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers dropped and sea water levels increased in the Shatt Al-Arab. The waterway, which marks the border with Iran, is the main supply of drinking water in Basra.

Basra Health Directorate on Monday said most of the cases they have been treating have been concentrated in areas-supplied with water from Shatt Al-Arab.

READ MORE ON BASRA:

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“There is a clear relationship between the water salinity and increasing infections,” the authority said.

The population has been forced to rely on mobile water tankers provided by both government and private suppliers, local officials told Arab News. 

These tankers fill up from desalination plants where the quality of the water is not being properly monitored, Basra’s health officials said. 

In Basra, there are about 100 desalination plant, but just 27 of them meet the required health standards.

Basra is home to the largest oil fields in Iraq, and the province exports more than 3.5 million barrels per day.

This oil production is the backbone of the Iraqi economy, which relies entirely on oil revenues to pay the salaries of millions of employees and provide government services.

All the Shiite-dominated southern provinces, including Basra, have been neglected and left impoverished for decades as a result of wars, lack of strategic planning and rampant corruption.

Massive demonstrations swept through the south and Baghdad last month to protest against the lack of basic services, high unemployment rates and poverty. At least 17 demonstrators were killed in clashes between protesters and Iraqi security forces, police said.

In an attempt to calm the protests, which started in Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi allocated 3.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($2.93 billion) to projects to solve the water and electricity problems and provide ten thousand jobs. 

But six weeks after his announcement, Basra has not received any funds to start the work on the projects, local officials said.

“Al-Abadi himself and the ministerial committee he formed have not fulfilled their promises,” Jabar Al-Sa’adi, the chairman of the Services Committee in Basra Governorate Council told Arab News.

“The water is not suitable for drinking, epidemics and diseases are spreading at a frightening rate and water salinity is steadily increasing, while the federal government is just watching.”

Basra Governor As'ad Al-Eidani said in a televised interview that Al-Abadi has refused to release money allocated to the province because of the lack of impartial officials to handle it. 

Health officials fear an outbreak of cholera as the fresh water flowing down to the Shatt Al-Arab will significantly reduced by the middle of next month. 

Members of parliament who represent Basra called for an emergency meeting with local officials on Sunday to find urgent solutions.

They agreed to give the federal government no more than 48 hours to increase the amount of water flowing down Iraq’s two main rivers to ease the crisis, those in attendance told Arab News. 

They also demanded that Al-Abadi release the funding required to start building the infrastructure to improve water treatment.

If not, local government and tribes will declare civil disobedience and stop work in all governmental departments, ports and border crossings.

“We will paralyze public life, stop oil exports and close border crossings,” Falih Al-Khazaili, a senior Shiite MP and a key player in Basra told Arab News. “Oil is not more important than people's lives in Basra. 

“Why do we allow the export of oil from Basra while we cannot provide drinking water for its people?”

 


Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2020

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.