Friday, March 25, 2011

The Reality of Life in Iraq: Where Does Sustainability Fit In?

My friend Christine has a very regular blog looking at how we interact with our enviroment and things that we can do to make a difference to climate change.  I wrote her an email describing my impressions of Northern Iraq in this regard and my questions about it. (Of course, this is only after being here for 2 1/2 weeks and there may be things happening here that I am unaware of.)
Her blog is http://www.350orbust.wordpress.com/ 
March 24, 2011
by Christine
Today’s posting is inspired by, and dedicated to, my amazing friend Kathy who is in Northern Iraq for 3 months as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team. Kathy responded to yesterday’s posting about bottled water by relating the reality she sees around her. Bottled water is sold everywhere – restaurants, public squares, corner stores. Kathy has given me permission to share her reflections:
It creates a real quandary within myself when I read articles from your blog and then see the reality of life here. It seems that everything that I can do in Canada and that Canada is doing re: the environment (and I know that is not perfect), is non-existent here. Water is bought from small shops in 5 gallon bottles. Those, I believe are refilled. But the rubbish is full of the small 500 ml bottles. This is what you are automatically given in the restaurants, in the shops, young boys and men are selling them in the main square where the demonstrations are taking place. I asked about the safety of the tap water. Apparently here in the city is does not usually have trouble with bacteria, but there are a lot of heavy metals from the war in the water, so long-term ramifications would not be good.

When you buy things from the shops on the street you are automatically given at least two plastic bags. I have made a tiny inroad in convincing the nearest veg salesperson  to accept my eccentricities and let me fill my reusable net veg bags and then use my own reusable bag. He is young, the older man looks at me like I am from outer space (and maybe I am).

Then there is the rubbish. There is no system for recycling, reusing or composting (the latter maybe in the rural, farm  areas – I don’t know). I have seen the dumps and the rubbish is dumped and burned. People do use buses quite a bit and the buses do not move until they are full. Taxis are used quite a bit too, but there are a lot of private vehicles too.

Kathy then poses a very important question, “Are the ’3Rs’ just a western, elite thing– for those with the resources to concentrate on it?”
I can’t answer Kathy’s question without bringing my own North American background/bias into my response.  I do know that the average North American’s footprint on the earth is much larger than the average Iraqi’s, so it behooves us to do as much as we can to become better stewards of the world’s resources. And, as my husband reflected, the way to address issues of sustainability in developing countries is to make connections between renewable energy/recycling/composting, etc, and improved living conditions.  There are countless examples of how this might be done. For example, with solar panels that bring electricity to people who don’t have access to the grid, and solar cookers that provide an excellent, non polluting cooking source to improve the life of people who are running out of traditional sources of heat(check out the video below for more on this).
For an Iraqi perspective, here’s a September, 2010, posting from 350.org,  by Ali Falkhry from IndyACT, who wrote about the organizing efforts in Iraq:
In a country where people risk life and limb (literally) every second by just walking through the neighborhood you find dedicated activists that are ready to risk everything to raise the awareness and get to work against climate change and to brand a new era of a newly born Iraq.
Hiba, Hala, Mais, Hazem, Lina, Ali and Ashraf, 350 leaders in Iraq, are already rocking the city, promoting for solar panels at the University of Babel Iraq and planting trees near the industrial zones and conducting environmental awareness sessions to convince locals, industries and government to adapt for a renewable energy.
This group is working on their plans for 10/10/10 and preparing for something big. Stay tuned…
The picture below was taken on the International Day of Action on Climate Change in October, 2009. Jamie Henn, of the Youth Climate Coalition, had this to say about the young Iraqi woman, Ola, and her participation in that event:
Perhaps my favorite photos from October 24 is from one of our smallest events. It’s a picture of a young woman in Iraq, who wanted to take part in the international day of action. When she invited her friends to join her in a public event, they told her she was crazy, that it was too dangerous. Yet, she didn’t back down. And on the morning of October 24, she picked up a home made banner, went through the multiple American military check points that separated her from the historic gate of Babylon where she wanted to take a photo, got a brave friend to snap a picture, and emailed it in to our website.  That’s a big action that took big bravery, and for me, it’s a big inspiration for the year ahead.


Ola in Iraq
And here’s a video about a stove powered by the sun that is making a big difference in impoverished countries (via ClimateCrocks.com):
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