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Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper

In November, the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper was awarded a grant from the U.K.-based Rufford Small Grants Foundation to conduct a threat assessment of the Lesser Zab River in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq and develop action plans for addressing the important problems on the river. The Lesser Zab River has its origins in Iran, where two small streams join together to from the Chami Kalveh in the Azarbayjane-Gharbi region of Iran. For part of its travels the river forms the border between Iraq and Iran, and it is here that it is eventually joined by the Siwayl River (flowing entirely in Iraq). It eventually leaves the border and flows northwest to the wide Dukan basin (now a reservoir, controlled by the only major dam on the river, the Dukan Dam). From the dam it flows 402 km west-southwest to meet the Tigris River near the town of Bayji. One of the key rivers within the jurisdiction of the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper, the Lesser Zab faces a host of threats that include fuel spills from smuggling activities, water diversion and irrigation projects, dam construction, gravel mining operations, municipal sewage and solid waste impacts, and issues from some industrial activities such as oil exploration, but most of these impacts have simply not been documented.

There has never been any comprehensive or consistent monitoring of the river until Nature Iraq, an Iraqi conservation organization, started water quality sampling there in 2007. Funding such activities within a post-conflict country like Iraq has been difficult, as most support is focused on reconstruction, development and the hallowed but narrowly-defined concept favored by international development agencies—“democracy building." The environment usually gets put on the back burner as being outside of these issues. Because of lacks of funds, Nature Iraq was not able to continue its water quality monitoring effort after 2009. But in the following year Nature Iraq initiated efforts to form a Waterkeeper program and affiliate with the international WATERKEEPER® Alliance. Formal acceptance into the Alliance took place in 2011 and the Waterkeeper, Nabil Musa, began work primarily getting familiar with the rivers under his jurisdiction and conducting a number of clean-up, outreach and educational projects.

With the assistance of the Rufford Small Grant, in 2012 the Waterkeeper will start the first comprehensive survey of one of his key rivers from the point it enters Iraq to the point it joins the Tigris River. He will utilize a specific threat assessment methodology utilized by Nature Iraq in past survey work that will identify areas along the river with the highest threats and allow us to prioritize the different issues facing the watershed. The main goal will be to develop a list of strategies and action plans designed to mitigate or resolve these threats, which the Waterkeeper can use to guide his future activities and focus, but which can also be provided to local municipalities along the river as well as the Iraqi and the Kurdistan regional governments to persuade, encourage, and/or cajole them into also taking actions to address the many problems on the river.

For further information on the project or other activities of the Waterkeeper project in Iraq, click here or visit the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper Facebook Page.

For more information, click here.

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