Iraqis clean up river as first green projects take root

Published April 11, 2022
Baghdad: Volunteers take part in a clean-up campaign on the bank of the Tigris river in the Iraqi capital’s Adhamiyah district.—AFP
Baghdad: Volunteers take part in a clean-up campaign on the bank of the Tigris river in the Iraqi capital’s Adhamiyah district.—AFP

BAGHDAD: Garbage clogs the banks of Iraq’s Tigris River in Baghdad but an army of young volunteers is cleaning it, a rare environmental project in the war-battered country.

With boots and gloves, they pick up soggy trash, water bottles, aluminium cans and muddy styrofoam boxes, part of a green activist campaign called the Cleanup Ambassadors.

“This is the first time this area has been cleaned since 2003,” shouts a passer-by about the years of conflict since a US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

The war is over but Iraq faces another huge threat: a host of interrelated environmental problems from climate change and rampant pollution to dust storms and water scarcity. The 200 volunteers at work in Baghdad want to be part of the solution, removing garbage from a stretch of one of the mighty rivers that gave birth to the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia.

“It breaks my heart to see the banks of the Tigris in this state,” said one 19-year-old volunteer, who gave only her first name, Rassel, working under Baghdad’s Imams Bridge.

“We want to change this reality. I want to make my city more beautiful.” The task is Herculean in a country where it remains common for people to drop their trash on the ground.

The green banks of the Tigris, popular for picnics by families and groups of friends, are usually littered with waste, from single-use plastic bags to the disposable tips of hookah pipes, especially after public holidays.

“There is a lot of plastic, nylon bags and corks,” said Ali, also 19 and an organiser of the cleanup event.

The group then handed their collected waste to the Baghdad City Council which took it away, bound for a landfill.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2022

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