“Green Belt” around Karbala pays the bill for negligence and drought

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Karbala (Iraq) (AFP) – Drought and neglect threaten the “green belt” that includes trees planted 16 years ago around the city of Karbala to curb desertification and sandstorms that are growing sharply in Iraq.

This belt was created in 2006 as part of an initiative launched by the authorities of the province of Karbala, in which tens of thousands of palm trees, olive trees and eucalyptus were planted, with the aim of reducing desertification and sandstorms emanating from the surrounding deserts. the city of Karbala, south of the capital, Baghdad.

And he recalls the phone call of Sabhan Khazali, who lives in Karbala, which includes Shiite shrines visited by millions of people a year, including Arabs and foreigners, saying: “We had good news with this green belt about remove the flying dust “.

But after 16 years, this green belt, which was intended to stretch like a long arch around the city, no longer plays the role assigned to it in the master plan that aims to turn an area up to 76 kilometers into green land.

Today, this belt is limited to two parts, the first is 26 kilometers long and 100 meters wide on the south side and the second 22 kilometers long and 100 meters wide on the north axis, “due to the suspension of financial liquidity ”. according to Nasser Al-Khazali, a former member of the dissolved Karbala Provincial Council.

He blamed the former official “for the central government and local authorities for neglecting and stopping financial allocations”.

A farmer in the “green belt” in Karbala, central Iraq on March 21, 2022 Mohamed Sawaf AP

For example, only 9 billion dinars ($ 6.1 million) were paid out of the 16 billion dinars ($ 10.9 million) allocated for the northern axis, according to the official.

– negligence –

Millions of Iraqis, including protesters who took part in the popular protests in 2019, accuse the authorities and the parties behind them of negligence and mismanagement.

“Green Belt” in Karbala, Central Iraq, April 18, 2022 Mohamed Sawaf AP

Iraq ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International in 2021.

As palms, which are a symbol of Iraq, struggle to survive, winds are tearing down weak olive branches in light of the lack and weakness of the irrigation network and the lack of people to graze plants. of this generation that weeds have accumulated in their roots.

Khazali’s phone sees “negligence” as the reason for the state of the green belt today.

Therefore, the trees of this generation are no longer enough and can not withstand the sandstorms, which have become a frequent phenomenon in Iraq, especially in the province of Karbala, which is surrounded by desert.

And Meteorological Department spokesman Amer Al-Jabri warned of increased sandstorms after Iraq was hit by two consecutive sandstorms earlier this April.

He stressed that the main cause of sandstorms is lack of rain and increased desertification.

Citizen Ali Khaled said: “If this generation had been activated, they would have been able to reduce the intensity of the dust storms that hit Karbala recently.”

He adds, “Unfortunately, the generation has become like many projects that have been built and neglected” in a country that suffers from poor public services.

Iraq is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and desertification, especially due to the increase in cases of drought with high temperatures reaching more than fifty degrees Celsius for several days of summer.

Last November, the World Bank warned of a 20% reduction in Iraq’s water resources by 2050 due to climate change.

Dams built by Turkey and Iran on the upper Tigris and Euphrates rivers led to lower water levels in both rivers, causing drought in large areas of Iraq.

– ‘criminal gang’ –

Lack of water plays a major role in the deterioration of soil condition, which leads to a significant reduction of areas suitable for cultivation.

Nazeer Al-Ansari, a specialist in water resources engineering at Sweden’s Lulea University, says “Iraq loses about 100,000 dunams (250 square kilometers) of agricultural land a year, which turn into desert areas.”

“This is why we can expect more sandstorms” with serious consequences for public health and agriculture, he warns.

Al-Ansari blames Iraqi authorities for “lack of planning for water resources”.

For its part, the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture says it is making efforts to “restore vegetation” in the country.

During an earlier meeting in 2021 with the National News Agency, Agriculture Ministry adviser Aoun Diab drew attention to the importance of green areas around cities, noting that there is a “tendency to create green belts”.

He spoke at the time about “some experiments to create these belts, but unfortunately they were created and did not last”, referring to the Karbala experience.

Speaking with a sigh of relief, Khazali’s phone says he is looking forward to the green belt situation in Karbala, saying negligence has turned the country into a hotbed of “criminal gangs and stray dogs (…) and a murder scene” and robbery ”.

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