The Middle East and Iraq in particular are threatened by an ecological catastrophe. You can read more about how bad the the situation in the region is, what Wadi is trying to do about it and what other projects we’ve been doing this year in our winter newsletter.
Dear Friends of Wadi,
“The Tigris is dying”. This is how AFP recently headlined a report on the devastating water shortage in Iraq: Mesopotamia is literally drying up. For the people there, as everywhere in the Middle East, the catastrophe caused by climate change and environmental destruction that everyone is talking about these days are being felt and seen. More and more formerly agricultural land is no longer arable, leading to increased migration to the cities. The swamps in the south of the country are shrinking at an alarming rate while the region has to endure record breaking heat waves.
It just can’t go on like this for much longer, otherwise millions will lose their livelihoods – not to mention the destruction of flora and fauna that can already be seen everywhere in the region. According to the UNHCR in 2022 alone, more than 20 million climate refugees were counted, and that figure does not even include all those who have left their villages to look for a way to make a living in the big cities. But the big cities are also bursting at the seams and the supply of water and electricity is becoming increasingly difficult. All this bad news is hard to take; it’s easy to have the reaction “It’s too late anyway, so why bother doing anything?”.
But that is not our approach: The regions in which Wadi has been active for so long now have been faced with multiple catastrophes for decades. How often has the situation seemed hopeless when the jihadist barbarians of the Islamic State controlled large parts of northern Iraq eight years ago and were able to carry out their terror there unhindered? They are largely history today and, albeit sluggishly and far too slowly, areas they devastated are being rebuilt.
“Woman, Life, Freedom”
Meanwhile, young people in Iran are protesting under the slogan “Woman, Life Freedom” with their demands for an end to the hated dictatorship, are defying the regime’s security forces, who are trying with extreme brutality to beat down these demonstrations, which have now been going on for two months. As everywhere in the region, the majority of the population is younger than 30 years old and not only wants political freedom and equality, but is also very aware that their future is being gambled away. People raising the alarm are not spoilsports: the time that is left to change things is running out. The gap between the situation on the ground and the desperate efforts to stop the disaster and international responses could not be greater.
“Our projects come in where people live and work. Because projects are only successful if they do justice to the regional conditions.
Sure: Major events such as the Cop27 meeting in Cairo are present in the media. Tens of thousands travelled (including many lobbyists from mineral oil and car companies), to a country where the demands of the youth for a better future in 2011 continue to be brutally suppressed. It seems that Cop27 is once again about large sums of billions and prestige projects, because who would not want to adorn themselves with the label “green” these days? And unfortunately it seems that the agreements made at previous conferences, such as limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, have long since become obsolete. The new figure people are now talking about is 2.5 degrees, which, if the scenario were to occur, would make large parts of the Middle East and the eastern Levant uninhabitable.Issues relating to climate and environmental protection have also become trendy buzzwords. What company, organisation or party doesn’t want to be “green” these days? For aid organisations and their work, which unfortunately so often has degenerated into a business, this means of course always including “ecological projects” on the agenda as this is what sponsors and donors expect.
Environment – jump on a moving train?
So are we just jumping on the same bandwagon? Because these topics are “in” at the moment, are we trying to get our share of the cake?
The answer is: No! The fact that such campaigns and programs are now an important part of our work in both Iraq and Greece has developed organically from previous projects. Years ago, for example, with the successful “No to violence” campaign, the idea arose that violence was also directed against the environment and animals and that this had to be addressed. Partner schools asked our local employees for appropriate seminars and our partners in Halabja have long attached great importance to environmental protection.
On site – with and for the people
As mentioned above, this topic is of particular concern to the younger generation. Every day they are confronted with the consequences of environmental destruction and a waste of resources and know that their future is also at stake. However, there is often a lack of specific starting points for what each individual can do beyond criticism of the government and industrialised countries.
This is where our projects come in: where people live and work. Because projects are only successful if they do justice to the regional conditions. Managed by staff who themselves come from the region and literally speak the language that is understood there. Not abstract ideas, but concrete improvement of living conditions are in the foreground: Our teams and those of our local partner organisations run sewing courses in remote villages and teach the women how to upcycle old clothes.
This strengthens their economic independence, saves resources and creates awareness that the industrial production of cheap textiles, which are available everywhere at ridiculous prices, have devastating effects: Not only are they often made using child and forced labour in Southeast Asia and China, but also oil extraction and processing, the fashion industry is also the world’s biggest polluter. In this way, Kurdish women villagers become aware that their work can also have a global impact.
Tradition and Modernity
At the same time, on-site seminars discuss how water and energy can be saved without making major sacrifices. Their knowledge from the past plays an important role, because after all, the economical use of resources once played an important role in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Nobody wants to go back or even glorify the hard country life, but tradition and modernity can be creatively combined in this area: In Halabja, in the recycling centre we cooperate, local staff produce furniture made of recycled plastic, the design of which resembles traditional benches is modelled on in Kurdish tea houses. These “Made in Kurdistan” products are then delivered to partner schools where the students collect plastic for the centre. Delivered by tuk-tuk drivers who earn extra income, they are no longer looked down on as “garbage collectors” in the urban community, but are now part of the “#GreenCityHalabja” campaign, whose logo adorns their vehicles.
A great idea catches on:
The fact that such a campaign can be so successful after just a few months is also due to the fact that experiences from previous ones flow into it, be it the campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) that we have been running since 2004 or the campaign against violence in schools. And it doesn’t end there; the idea was taken up in various other places in the region and also in Greece. This year we were not only able to open a second recycling centre in Kifri in Iraqi Kurdistan and start a first environmental project in one of the refugee camps in northern Iraq together with Yazidi camp residents, but also on Lesvos a similar campaign with Greek partner schools and our long-term partner there, the self-organised refugee organisation “Moria White Helmets”.
We would like to thank you, dear donors, for continuing to support Wadi and for having given us the confidence that we will use your funds sensibly, even in these difficult financial times where we are all affected by rampant inflation and the crushing energy crises.
Nevertheless, we ask you, because we are also affected by the crisis, to continue to support us:
IBAN: DE43500100600612305602; Postbank Frankfurt
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In this somewhat longer newsletter we would like to give you an account of some of the projects that are possible thanks to your help.
With this in mind, on behalf of all our team members and partner organisations, we wish you happy holidays and a happy new year.
Thomas von der Osten-Sacken
– Managing Director