Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events

Special All along the banks of the once mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years. (AN Photos/Kareem Botane)
All along the banks of the once mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years. (AN Photos/Kareem Botane)
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Updated 11 March 2022

Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events

All along the banks of the once mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years. (AN Photos/Kareem Botane)
  • Once flourishing communities along Tigris River face existential crisis as high temperatures become the norm
  • Iraq’s President Barham Salih says climate change is by far the most serious long-term threat facing the country

MOSUL / BOGOTA: Caked in the fine yellow dust kicked up by his tractor-drawn planter, Farman Noori Latif jumps down to survey his work. He has spent the morning sowing wheat seed on his farm near the banks of the Tigris River, just south of Mosul in northern Iraq.

It is late in the season to be sowing wheat, but the 30-year-old has been holding out for a much-needed spell of autumn rain. The earth might still be parched under the baking sun but it is now or never if he wants his crops in the ground before winter sets in.

“Today is November 2 and the weather is hot. It shouldn’t be like this,” Latif told Arab News as he inspected the soil he and his family have farmed for four generations. “We are supposed to have this weather in September, not now.”

 

Latif is not alone in fighting a losing battle against the elements. The UN Environment Program’s sixth Global Environmental Outlook report, published in 2019, ranked Iraq fifth on the list of countries most vulnerable in terms of water and food availability and extreme temperatures.

All along the banks of the once mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years, forcing many among the rural population to abandon the land in search of work in the cities.

“We have lost everything due to the lack of rain and the hot weather,” Ameer Khthr Yousif, a 30-year-old farmer and fisherman selling his catch on a Qayyarah roadside, told Arab News.

“We farmers depend on the Tigris River for our agriculture. If the situation continues, everyone here will leave farming to find other sources of income.”

Average temperatures in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, and extreme heat events are becoming more frequent. According to the World Bank, mean annual temperatures in Iraq are expected to rise by 2 C by 2050, and mean annual rainfall to decrease by 9 percent.

Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years, according to the UN, leaving the country’s aquifers unreplenished and raising the salinity of the remaining groundwater.

“The groundwater has dried out here,” Latif said. “I have a well that is 30 meters deep without any water in it. All the wells here have dried out. Even if there is water in any of these wells, it will be red in color or salty.”




Hazim Mahamad Ebrahim, 60, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Soil degradation is causing dust storms to increase in scale and frequency. Between 1951 and 1990, Iraq experienced an average of 24 days a year with dust storms. In 2013, there were 122, according to the UN.

In an op-ed for the Financial Times, published on Oct. 31 to coincide with the start of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Iraq’s President Barham Salih said the economic and environmental effects of climate change are “by far the most serious long-term threat” facing the country.

“Very high temperatures are becoming more common, drought more frequent and dust storms more intense,” Salih said. “Desertification affects 39 percent of Iraq’s territory and increased salinization threatens agriculture on 54 percent of our land.”

Neighboring countries are also experiencing more frequent droughts and rising temperatures, leading to regional water disputes. Iraq’s water ministry said this year that water flows from Iran and Turkey had fallen by 50 percent during the summer.

“Dams on the headwaters and tributaries of the historic Tigris and Euphrates Rivers — the lifeblood of our country — have reduced water flow, leading to shortages,” Salih said. “According to Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources, our country could face a shortfall of as much as 10.8 billion cubic meters of water annually by 2035.”




Farman Noori Latif, 30, a farmer and contractor from the village of Muhssin, Qarach area, Makhmur, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Salih said he is all too aware of the threat climate change poses to a country utterly reliant on oil revenues, whose booming youth population is simmering with pent-up frustration.

“Iraq’s population is projected to double from 40 million people today to 80 million by 2050, just as our income, largely based on oil production, will be drastically reduced as a result of the world abandoning fossil fuels as it moves to sustainable, clean energy,” he said.

“The loss of income may very well result in migration to cities whose infrastructure is even now incapable of supporting the existing population. This migration may well result in extremism and insecurity as young people are unable to find jobs that give them a decent standard of living.”

FASTFACTS

* Average temps. in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees since 1921.

* Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years.

* In 2013, Iraq experienced at least 122 days with dust storms.

Mohammed Abdullah Ibrahim, who has farmed his patch of land in Qayyarah for decades, said he has seen dramatic changes in the climate during his lifetime.

“I have been a farmer since the 1970s and I have never seen it this bad before,” the 64-year-old told Arab News.

Water shortages have forced local farmers to abandon many of the water-intensive fruit and vegetable crops once grown here. Among those that still grow, yields have halved, said Ibrahim.

“Before, it was sufficient,” he added. “You could grow enough and make a profit. In the past, we were employed only in farming; we did not need a job or salaries. But things have changed now. We have to find another job to make a living.

“If the situation continues like this, we will be entering a very dark future. The young generation will end up unemployed.”

Ibrahim’s neighbor, Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, has also observed a significant change in the local climate. “The heat wave we had last year, we have never had it like that before,” he told Arab News. “I am 56 years old; I have never experienced heat like that in my life.




Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, 56, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. Credit: (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

“I know many farmers who have left their land and given up on farming. If the situation continues, I am afraid we will all move to the cities and leave farming behind, migrating from the villages because there will be nothing left for us to stay for.”

It is not only arable crop farmers who are struggling in the fierce heat. Sparse pasture, limited fodder and a shortage of fresh water have forced livestock farmers to sell or even cull their animals.

“Our animals have begun dying due to drought and the lack of rain,” Jamal Ali, a 49-year-old shepherd from Makhmur, told Arab News.

“Animals are very expensive these days. We have to buy fodder for our sheep and cows because our land cannot produce enough food for them due to the late rainy season and drought. We had to sell our sheep in order to compensate (for the loss). We have lost 50 percent of our income from animals and farming due to climate change.”

Dehydration has led to serious veterinary health problems among livestock, affecting their reproductive health.

“The changing climate has created many diseases among the animals,” said Ali. “The most common is birth defects. It is all due to the lack of rain and water.”




Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, 51, a farmer and mayor of Hoot Al-Foqani, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, mayor of the Qayyarah village of Hoot Al-Foqani, said the federal government in Baghdad has done little to subsidize farming and help prevent climate-induced rural displacement.

“We have lost more than 100,000 hectares of land due to the lack of rain and water. We have fewer animals compared to before, especially sheep,” he said.

“About 50 or 60 farmers have left here so far. We need support from international organizations as we already know that the government has limited capabilities. We hope they can do something for us, otherwise the number of animals and farmers will decline in the coming years.”

Although the Iraqi government has launched a UN-backed National Adaptation Plan to improve the country’s resilience to climate change, few of the benefits have trickled down to sun-scorched farming communities along the Tigris.

Kneeling in the powdery earth to uproot a spindly yellow plant, Latif said Iraq’s farmers urgently need outside help if their way of life is to survive the relentlessly changing weather patterns.

“We have lost our hope in the Iraqi government; we want foreign countries to help us,” he said. “We do not have any other means of making a living. Farming is our only hope and without it I cannot imagine how it will be.”

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Twitter: @kareem_botane / @RobertPEdwards


11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
Updated 8 min 38 sec ago

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
  • Specialized teams dealing with the leak
  • Local authorities call on Aqaba citizens to close, seal doors and windows and to avoid going out

AMMAN: At least 11 people have died and more than 250 were being treated in hospital after a toxic gas leak from a storage tank in Jordan's Aqaba port, according to government spokesman Faisal Al-Shaboul.

Specialized teams were dealing with the leak after a tank filled with toxic gas fell during its transportation, leading to a leak at the site, Petra said, citing the spokesperson of the Public Security Directorate.

Video carried by state-run media showed a crane hoisting a large tanker from a truck and then dropping it on the deck of a ship, causing an explosion of yellow smoke and sending dock workers racing away.

The area was immediately evacuated, according to Aqaba Governor Mohammad Al-Radayaa, who said the situation “had been controlled.”

Local authorities also called on Aqaba citizens to close and seal doors and windows and to avoid going out.

The Director of Aqaba Health Department, Dr. Jamal Obeidat, announced the city's hospitals are full after they reached the maximum capacity in addition to opening a field hospital to receive injuries.

Obeidat added that cases of gas suffocation are referred to health centers, noting that the health condition of the injured is between medium and critical.

Chest diseases consultant, Dr. Mhammed Al-Tarawneh, said the gas leaked from the tank, believed to be chlorine, is a very toxic substance, which may significantly affect the surrounding areas.

Al-Tarawneh added that contact with this gas leads to irritation of the mucous membranes and the occurrence of a red rash in the flesh, in addition to pneumonia, pointing out that the gas entering the mouth also leads to burning in the esophagus and the occurrence of cases of diarrhea, headaches, impairment, and loss of consciousness.

The Minister of State for Information Affairs, Al-Shaboul, said that Prime Minister Dr. Bishr Al-Khasawneh instructed the formation of an investigation team, headed by the interior minister, into the accident and explosion.

The US ambassador to Jordan, Henry T. Wooster, expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and those affected by the accident.

“Along with the entire staff of the US Embassy in Amman, I extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the explosion in Aqaba,” he said.

“We stand ready to support the government of Jordan as it responds to this tragedy, I urge all US citizens in Aqaba to follow all public health guidance,” he added.

The Secretary-General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajjraf, also expressed his sincere condolences to Jordan, the king, government people, and the victims.

Al-Hajraf affirmed that the GCC stands with the government and the Jordanian people, in these difficult moments, extending his condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims, asking “God Almighty to bless them with his mercy, to grant the injured a speedy recovery, and to protect Jordan and its people from all evil and calamities under the leadership of King Abdullah II.”


Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
Updated 27 June 2022

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
  • The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt,

CAIRO: A delegation from the Saudi National Real Estate Committee has held talks with the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones in Egypt on how to boost investment cooperation between the two countries.

The talks were led by Mohamed Abdullah Abdel Aziz Al-Murshed, who chairs the Saudi committee, and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, CEO of the Egyptian investment authority. Also present were Tariq Shukri, who chairs Egypt’s real estate development chamber, and representatives of 27 leading Saudi companies in the fields of real estate development, industry, agriculture and building materials.

The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt, on the sidelines of which 14 investment agreements were signed between the two nations, according to a press release.

Abdel-Wahab stressed the “importance of strengthening investment relations between the two countries, especially in light of what the current period is witnessing in providing unprecedented support to the private sector, and encouraging Arab and foreign companies to pump more investment into the Egyptian market, including the construction sector.”

He said the sector was “one of the main pillars of the national projects being implemented, such as the Suez Canal axis, and fourth generation cities such as the Administrative Capital, New Alamein and others, which aim to create smart cities based on electronic services and renewable energy, in addition to implementing a huge network of roads and bridges to connect national projects and new cities.”

The meeting looked at ways to enhance cooperation by exploiting the competitive advantages of Egypt as a destination for investment in the region, and reviewing the investment opportunities available.

It also highlighted the importance of strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries.

Abdel-Wahab said the investment authority was keen to attract more Saudi investment in Egypt by intensifying communication with major companies and introducing the Saudi business community to the latest developments there.


Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle
Updated 27 June 2022

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle
  • Ukrainian local community in Gaza highlight similar struggles civilians face in the Russian occupation and Israeli occupation

LONDON: There are around 830 Ukrainian-born people living in Gaza, the largest population of foreigners living in the blockaded coastal zone, according to community leaders.

While for decades, their families in Ukraine have feared for safety in the Gaza Strip, these expats are now also fear for their families’ safety in Ukraine.

Natalya Hassoumi, a endocrinologist in Beit Lahia, was frequently unable to contact her family in Ukraine for days at a time while airstrikes targeted the Palestinian territory.

Now, she has not heard from her parents and siblings in Russian-occupied Kherson for three weeks.

“I never thought that war could happen in Ukraine, no food, no electricity … Gaza and Ukraine have the same problems now,” she told the Guardian.

The Soviet Union was a major supporter of the Palestinian cause, offering scholarships and business visas to people from West Bank and Gaza for decades, according to Hassoumi.

Many of those ties remained after Ukraine declared independence in 1991.

The vast majority of Ukrainians in Gaza are women who met their Palestinian husbands while studying at Ukrainian universities.

Approximately 120 Gaza families with ties to Ukraine were evacuated during the 11-day war last May between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups, which killed 256 people in Gaza and 14 people in Israel.

However, less than a year later, Viktoria Saidam and her husband Ibrahim have decided to seek refuge with Ibrahim's parents in the southern Gaza Strip, where the population suffers from electricity shortages, polluted water and political turmoil, according to the Guardian report.

Natalya Mabhouh has lived in Gaza since 1997. Her mother, sister are still in her home town of Kharkiv.

“When I came to Gaza the economic situation was good, there was peace, but we got used to wars and escalation since then. This has been a huge shock. Russians and Ukrainians are like one people … I still don’t understand how this could happen,” the hairdresser said to the Guardian.

In general, the Palestinian society have supported Russia over Ukraine, viewing it as a proxy superpower struggle with the US, Israel’s most important ally.However, neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority has taken a public position on the Russian invasion.

The Russian invasion has also heightened tensions between Gaza's Ukrainian and Russian-speaking communities.

Many local Ukrainians were upset after a pro-Moscow demonstration was held in March.

In March, many local Ukrainians were upset after a group of Russians held a pro-Moscow demonstration, causing many long lived friendships to end.“It is really difficult,” said Hassoumi. “My mother is Ukrainian and my father is Russian and suddenly people are not talking to me. I feel like many people don’t care about the details, but it’s an occupation, like the Israelis.”

The Ukrainian community in Gaza remains worried about the prospects of both their homeland and their adopted home.Ashraf Al-Nimr, a leader of the local Ukrainian community, told the Guardian: “We built a life here, so despite everything we will stay”.

He says that 15 of his wife’s family members in Mariupol have gone missing since Russia’s siege began. “We can help by giving people in Ukraine instructions on how to deal with war, how to hide, and raising money. Any way we can help, we will,” he said.


Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
Updated 27 June 2022

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
  • Country’s anti-torture unit lacks govt budget, laws and courts ‘ineffective’

LONDON: Lebanese authorities must protect people from torture and ill-treatment in detention, a group of organizations including Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The appeal came on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW, said: “Despite an improvement to Lebanon’s anti-torture framework on paper, torture remains prevalent, and accountability for torture and ill-treatment is elusive.

“Lebanon needs to show that it is serious about combating torture, and it should start by moving forward the many torture complaints that have been languishing before the judiciary without effective investigations.”

In 2019, 44-year-old Hassan Al-Dika died in custody reportedly as a result of torture. An HRW investigation found that judicial authorities failed to investigate Al-Dika’s allegations of torture before his death.

They had also tasked the same security agency that Al-Dika accused of torture with investigating his claims.

And in the case of actor Ziad Itani, who was accused and later exonerated of spying for Israel, Lebanese justice authorities have yet to take action regarding his claims of torture at the hands of State Security officials.

The Lebanese Parliament passed a law criminalizing torture in 2017. Two years later the government appointed five members to the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture.

But the unit has yet to be allocated a budget to allow the fulfillment of its mandate.

“The Lebanese authorities should promptly and impartially investigate all complaints of torture, allocate a sufficient budget to allow the torture prevention unit to get to work, and bring the anti-torture law in line with international standards,” Majzoub said.

Torture remains prevalent in Lebanon, despite complaints regularly being filed under the 2017 law.

The HRW warned that the 2017 law fails to abide by Lebanon’s obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, because it fails to criminalize cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.


Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday
Updated 27 June 2022

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

CAIRO: Bahraini Royal Court says Egyptian President to visit kingdom on Tuesday, will hold talks with King, the state-run news agency said.  

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will receive President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his accompanying delegation upon his arrival in Bahrain tomorrow, Bahrain news agency said. 

During  the visit, the leaders will hold talks related to bilateral relations, in addition to the latest developments on the regional, Arab and international arenas.