‘Green City Halabja’: Growing a better future

The urgency of climate change has pushed forward a new project to protect the environment in Halabja, by creating public parks and green spaces, recycling, planting flowers and trees, and working together to have immediate positive effect on the community. Halabja hopes to become the first city in Iraq to be ‘plastic bag free’, and set an example for how small change can have a big impact. 


Women’s hiking tour organized monthly by NWE organization in Halabja, Iraqi Kurdistan

The temperatures in the summer of 2018 were record breaking in Iraqi Kurdistan. The immediate effects of the heat have made global climate change and environmental activism a top topic for the residents of Halabja. A city that has suffered devastating human and environmental costs when it was bombed with chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein during his campaign against the Kurdish population in 1988. The death and injury toll is estimated to be between 3,200 and 5,000 and the violence and brutality of the chemical weapons has deeply scarred the community and the land, even now 30 years later.

The urgency of climate change has pushed forward a new project to protect the environment in Halabja. Since 2012 NWE organization, our long-term partner in Halabja, has focused on improving the environment and highlighting the area’s natural beauty and regional products; and now a new, more comprehensive project ‘Green City Halabja’ will begin.  The logo tells it all, out of the shell of a chemical weapon, emerges a beautiful tree, a hopeful symbol of a better life coming out of a violent past.

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The idea of ‘Green City Halabja’ in simple terms is that when you treat your environment poorly by littering, destroying green spaces, and polluting: you also treat yourself and those around you poorly. Instead, by creating public parks and green spaces, recycling, planting flowers and trees, and working together you have an immediate positive effect on your community.

“People didn’t grow up with the idea that they are responsible for the place where you live, for your environment; so they feel nothing when they litter. To really change the culture, we need to start in kindergarten so people feel responsible for the place where they live, and develop good habits.” — Sarah Salam responsible for environment projects at NWE Organization

Simple ideas that have a big impact are at the core of the ‘Green City Halabja’ campaign. The first step they are taking is working to switch the city from one-time use plastic bags to reusable cotton bags. Cities and countries all over the world are taking this step to immediately reduce their plastic use, and Halabja hopes to become the first city in Iraq to be ‘plastic bag free’.


Hero Wakeel — Head of NWE Organization demonstrating the reusable cotton bags to replace one-use plastic bags

Energy usage and waste is another topic that will be addressed. Most houses use diesel generators to produce electricity, but at the same time, there is no awareness about conserving resources in Iraq as it is historically an oil rich country.  However even in places where oil is cheap, the reality is that it is extremely polluting and eventually those resources will run out. People are slowly realizing the negative effect that plastic waste, non-recycled trash, trash burning, are having on their lives. Providing people with simple tips on how to cut down their energy consumption at home, how to use less plastic, and how to be more mindful of both what they use and the trash they produce (plastic water bottles are a big example) is a big part of changing behaviours.

‘Green City Halabja’ would like to be an example city for the rest of Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq. Pollution, climate change, wasteful energy use, poor water quality, plastic waste, are issues that affect everyone, and to be solved many more cities will have to join Halabja in prioritizing their health through their environment, working together to improve the situation.


“Every year we are cleaning the most polluted place, which is where most of the picnics take place, near the waterfalls. In the city there are garbage collectors, but in the nature, walking spots and picnic spots, there is no one taking care of the garbage. We put waste baskets in the high traffic areas, and we empty them regularly. When people see us cleaning, with volunteers, they are inspired and they try to follow our example. We promote these activities through our organization network, or on social media.” Sarah Salam responsible for environment projects at NWE Organization

Planting trees and creating public parks is probably the most visible way to convince people that their environment has a direct impact on their happiness. In March 2018 NWE Organization initiated a park in memorial of the victims of the chemical attacks in Halabja, and the victims of the chemical attacks in the Ghouta in Syria. Under the banner of ‘Plant for Peace’ the act of commemoration was to plant ‘a tree for Halabja and a tree for Ghouta’. The intention was not to create a plaque, but a living place where people can come to reflect. The planting of trees symbolizes life, hope and a commitment to peace in response to violence. This park is the first piece of land that is for the people and by the people. Such a project shows the power of self organization, and has far reaching impacts on local understanding of community organization and local democracy. Now the municipality has given their support for the continuation of this project.


‘Plant for Peace’ commemoration and park opening, March 2018

This project will also tie in with Wadi’s ‘No to Violence’ campaign, which is working to end violence against children in schools and at home. Talking about violence against people and violence against our environment and how to change the culture and societies understanding of what violence is and how it affects individuals and communities is a big part of effecting change in the long-term.

October 2018 is the first ‘month of action’ for ‘Green City Halabja’ and NWE organization with the support of Wadi is planning on the following:

  • A conference to launch their intiative, promote their ideas to a wide audience through media coverage
  • Regular features on their Radio Progame ‘Radio Dangue NEW [link]’
  • Cleanup crews in visible locations around Halabja
  • Working on the park

The Next Steps:

There are many beautiful mountains in the area around Halabja, but none of them have proper hiking trails, NWE organization would like to mark several trails, and promote hiking for locals and international tourists. As part of the hike, local produce such as honey, and traditional crafts will be on sale for visitors. The sale of these products will in the long term support cooperatives, boosting the local economy and independence from donor aid.  NWE organization already organizes a hiking tour for women every month, and this future hiking project would also promote the idea of women participating more in public life.

“We have a very nice, fun project where once a month we take 30 women all day to the mountains, and go for walks, and discover the beauty of where they area and to breath some fresh air, to exercise, and improve their health. Women aren’t usually allowed to go to the nature alone, so this is a very nice project.” — Sarah Salam responsible for environment projects at NWE Organization


If you would like to support this unique project please donate here.