Wahid Ghanim / NIquash.org – 2011-05-28 01:10:06
BAGHDAD (March 17, 2011) — Large expanses of land across southeast Iraq are being contaminated by saline waste coming across the border from Iran. The water has formed lakes extending along a zigzag line of more than 60 km through Basra and Missan provinces, covering an area of over 150 square km.
Alaa al-Badran, is an engineer and the official reporter on water salinity in the Shatt al-Arab river. He has described the water in the lakes as highly toxic and a grave threat to the environment. “The salinity of flowing water has reached serious levels and is higher than the salinity of sea water,” he said.
“So far, the military wall that was built between Iran and Iraq during the 1980s war, has prevented the contaminated water from spreading,” he says. “But for how long?”
The commander of the fourth region in Basra province has warned that the border police station in Shalamjah is at risk of being flooded, if the water level rises above the wall. There are also growing concerns that Iraqi oil fields located near the border region may also be at risk.
“We will not allow this to happen,” says Ali Ghanem al-Maliki, the head of the security committee of Basra provincial council. “Engineers from the local government are working to strengthen the wall.”
But a source at the Southern Oil Company, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that the drainage water has already covering the small Sinbad border oil field, transportation roads and border markers, although it did not yet threaten the giant Majnoun oil field.
Water from Iran began to flow into Iraqi land at the end of 2010, when Iran built water pumps to clean up the soil in order to prepare it for sugar cane cultivation. The water was channelled into Iraq, facilitated by the mountainous geography of the region.
As well as high levels of saline, the soil in the region also contains chemicals from the remnants of the aerial bombardment during the 1980s war.
In the past two months, officials from both Iran and Iraq have met in Khuzestan and Basra provinces to discuss ways of containing the problem. They formed a technical committee, which is testing samples of the drainage water.
Hashem al-Luaibi, spokesman for Basra provincial council, said the results of these tests proved that the water contains toxic chemicals. “The Iranian ambassador, on his recent visit to Basra, promised to develop a plan to drain water to the sea by digging a canal on the Iranian side,” he said.
Iranian statements stress that the level of water flowing into Iraq has decreased. But the local government said that four 14-inch pipes are working constantly along the border strip.
Meanwhile, according to Badran, a day after the flow of water into the Khayeen river, all the fish perished.
The Department of Environment in Basra has expressed concern that contaminated water may reach Shatt al-Arab River through the Khayeen River or the Tigris River through the Swaib River.
At Shatt al-Arab, the fresh water of Tigris and Euphrates rivers mixes with Persian Gulf salty water to form a natural border between Iraq and Iran and provides livelihoods in fishing and agriculture for thousands of families living in Basra province.
Shatt al-Arab has already witnessed a noticeable increase in the level of salinity because of Iranâ€™s closure of the Karun and Karkha Rivers which flow into it. As a result, large areas of land have been devastated.
“The chemical contaminants will have a very negative impact on land and people’s lives,” Khayriah Hammoud, director of the Department of Environment, told Niqash.
“We will need to reclaim the agricultural land and to invest enormous funds in order to reverse the damage.”
Mansour al-Moussawi, a member of the environment and health committee in Basra province, admitted that the situation was very serious. But he understood why Iranians needed to clean up their land.
“The international siege against Iran is forcing it to become self-sufficient in agriculture. Thus, it is having to clean up much of its arid land for agriculture.”
People in the province and military experts say that Iran has deliberately dumped the area with water to form a defensive line in order to protect itself against any US attack that might use Basra as its military base.
Ali Ghanem al-Maliki does not rule out this possibility. “There may be some indicators which back up this assumption,” he said.
Many districts have already asked the Iraqi government to resort to international courts if Iran does not stop pumping its water into Iraqi land. But some people, like Abbas al-Jourani, one of the leaders of the Communist Party, are warning against the negative impact of this issue on relations between the two countries.
“They have just come out of a bloody turf war and have a history of mutual suspicion,” he said.
Alaa al-Badran has a matter-of-fact assessment: “What’s happening is a result of the absence of the Iraqi government over the past years. It has been busy solving other internal problems!”
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