City green belt in Karbala Province.

Karbala, Iraq, 3 June 2012 (AFP) – Trees as far as the eye can see are the weapons one Iraqi province is using in the fight against desertification in a country where decades of conflict have exacted a terrible environmental toll.

Karbala, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Baghdad, is best known as the site of the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas, who are among the most revered figures in Shiite Islam, and sees millions of pilgrims visit every year.

But it is also the location of a six-year-old project aimed at fighting worsening desertification in Iraq: a "green belt", or a 27-kilometre crescent lined with thousands of young trees in orderly patterns, irrigated by dozens of wells.

The area had been used as a military encampment but is now the front line of Karbala's battle against increasingly frequent sandstorms and salinisation of the land.

"If we do nothing, the desert will envelop us," said Hassan Jabbar, who heads the "green belt" project. "So we must go on the offensive, not on the defensive, and we must establish new irrigation projects."

The project has involved the planting of 62,000 olive trees, 20,500 palm trees, 37,000 eucalyptus trees, and 4,200 tamarind trees, all of which were chosen for their root strength as well as for the food some eventually produce.

Karbala province governor Amal al-Din al-Har, himself a former director of the provincial agriculture department, spoke with pride of the project, and said he hoped to widen the belt tenfold from its current 100-metre (330 feet) width.

"For 30 years, Iraq has been combating desertification, but after we established the (national) anti-desertification office, what we have accomplished in Karbala has been the most ambitious and most successful effort in Iraq," Har said.

The country's environment ministry estimated in 2009 that 39 percent of Iraq's surface was affected by desertification, while an additional 54 percent was under threat.

And while the ministry estimates that 28 percent of Iraq's territory is comprised of arable land, around 250 square kilometres (96 square miles) are lost every year due to degradation of various kinds. […]

Iraq has suffered several droughts over the past decade -- to worsen an already difficult environmental situation, with sandstorms in Baghdad regularly forcing the closure of the capital's airport, and leading to increased hospital visits due to respiratory problems. […]

Har was even harsher in his assessment of how much more needed to be done.

"I think Iraq is really far behind when it comes to the fight against desertification, and it really does not have strong measures to push efficient water usage," he said.

"Even today, we do not consider it an essential part of life, and we waste water."

Alluding to the years of violence that racked Iraq from 2006 to 2008, when confessional violence left tens of thousands dead, Har added: "Sandstorms now pose more of a problem than explosions."

Iraq 'green belt' front line in anti-desertification fight


  1. SteveK said...

    The place the desert must be fought is in the wetlands. Clearing the world's wetlands of their clogging weeds and the silt they produce is the way to restore the old "lake effect" rains, and to replenish the aquifers that are running dry. In Many places it is Water Hyacinth that is the culprit. In Lakes Chad and Jipe, it is Typha. Lake Winnipeg in Canada is about 50 years behind Lake Chad in this process. It can be stopped and largely reversed. The weeds are all biomass - raw biofuel. The silt is soil, waiting to repair desertified and eroded soils. This is a worldwide problem. America's dustbowl is largely the result of thousands of cattail sloughs where there should be lakes.  


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