Iraq is one of the seven most affected countries by climate change and facing an environmental disaster. One of Wadi’s main focus lies in supporting projects to counter this destruction. Raising awareness in schools, giving examples how to save water and energy are just some of our projects. We also started some pilot recycling programs in Iraq and Greece, both for locals and refugees
How do we approach rapidly changing environmental realities in a region that has been hit hard with record setting drought, and unbearable heat waves? Environmental and green issues were not popular or even present topics in normal conversation in the Middle East. But that has changed in the fac of an overwhelming evidence of the fast changing climate. Wadi and its local partners have been engaging on this topic for years with several different approaches.
Our approaches build on each other, and connect to our themes of citizenship, participation, and ownership.
WADI has been supporting various programs and projects for self-help and strengthening human and women’s rights in the Middle East for over 30 years. These include literacy programs, education and training for women, the fight against domestic violence and campaigns to end the practice of female genital mutilation. Our goal is always to strengthen self-organization. This also applies to our projects for and with refugees, the protection of the environment and culture and the strengthening of free media
Although environmental degradation and climate change are large complex issues that have many causes and effects, communities coming together is an essential first step in demanding more from industry and government. Iraq as an oil producer was not a place where ‘green’ policies and ideas were popular. But, the undeniable drastic effects that climate change is having on the area are too much to be ignored. In 2021 record setting draught sounded the alarm, the country is running out of water. Even in a place where oil is cheap, the reality is that it is extremely polluting and eventually those resources will run out. People are realising the negative effect that plastic waste, non-recycled trash, trash burning, are having on their lives
Wadi works with local communities, schools, universities, partner NGO’s and activists to bring about awareness and positive change. Our 4 themes explained below unite all our environmental activities. These activities are a result of discussions with communities about their needs, their realities, the problems they see and their ideas on how to solve them. We always work in a collaborative manner and provide technical support and knowledge that highlights the talents of local team members, activists, volunteers and communities in all our projects.
Raising Awareness & Engaging Communities
Wadi has been working for years to raise awareness about environmental issues one of our early projects was GreenCity Halabja a campaign to end the use of single use plastic bags in favour of reusable and sustainable cloth ones. The campaign has beenincredibly successful with local businesses and markets participating as well as creating employment and income for many local and refugee women who produce the reusable cotton tote bags.
The campaign continues, and has evolved to include single use plastics such as bottles, which are ubiquitous. Building on the momentum of the campaign and working with activists and our partner NGO ShredUp to build awareness around the disaster that is single use plastic, by creating a network for recycling and reusing these bottles. A radical project that continues to grow and find new and exciting ways turn what was viewed as ‘trash’ into treasure. Currently there are multiple recycling and shredding facilities through operating because of this project, and they are producing goods from the recycled plastic such as outdoor furniture.
The campaign which works by establishing plastic collection points (in schools, near markets, shops and other popular areas) also creates employment for plastic collectors, and is working to challenge the unfortunately negative view of sanitation workers, and show how important and essential they are for a clean and healthy environment for all to enjoy.
“Sarah Mohammed, a fifth-grade student at Nowruz School, where the launch of the project was announced during a special event, said, “They taught us not to throw away plastic bottles from now on and to put them in that box.”
Hiwa Muhammad, director of Nowruz School in Kifri told (KirkukNow), “We ask to expand the project by Wadi and Rang organizations because it is an important step for the future of the environment in Iraq and preparing for climate change.”
Garmian local administration which includes several districts and sub-districts between Sulaymaniyah and Diyala province is part of Sulaymaniyah Northern Province, one of the provinces of Kurdistan Region of Iraq KRI under the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG.”
(Kirkuk Now about the launch of “Make Germian Green Campaign)
Community engagement on ‘trash’ removal and singly use plastics recycling has also been part of self organized activist groups such as Moria White Helmets which has teams of refugees who have been cleaning up the refugee camps on the Greek Island of Lesbos, the project has been incredibly successful in creating a better environment for all and also at combating negative and hurtful stereotypes that ‘refugees leave trash everywhere and don’t care about their surroundings’.
In Garmyan, in Kirfri in cooperation with the local NGO, Rang , Wadi has launched a small educational recycling project raising awareness in the community focusing on school children. The project also has a recycling component for collecting plastic bottles at the schools and in public spaces. The bottle caps are shredded and turned into benches, and jewellery. While the bottles are pressed into cubes to be sold to recycling factories. The money gained from selling them is used for project future expenses, labour, power and building costs. This pilot project is being well received.
In Dohuk community teams of Yazidi women have also organized themselves to promote better ‘trash’ and recycling practices in the refugee camps while also empowering women, this project is supported by Wadi and Jinda, a long term partner of Wadi.
“In the beginning of the project and during our visit to the families in the camp they used to see us a garbage collectors, they didn’t support us and ignored us. Now after two months of work and awareness they started accepting the idea and we collected a very good amount of plastic. We can see people are getting used to it and cooperating with us. They want us to continue this work”. (Najla of Kabarto 2 team.)
All these projects are driven by a sense of ‘ownership’ for your community, the area where you live, and working together for positive change and action.
Working with youth through schools and universities is an essential part of raising awareness and changing mindsets. Youth are connected through social media to global movements surrounding climate and climate activism such as Fridays for Future.
They feel strongly that they are the ones who are growing up into an uncertain future with more climate disasters such as extreme temperatures and devastating droughts awaiting them. They are engaged in wanting to change and improve their communities, schools and neighborhoods.
Using age appropriate, and locally meaningful materials, seminars, plays, Keep Kurdistan Green Project works with dozens of partner schools to create green spaces, learn about local plants and animals, and engage with the single use plastics recycling program.
On the Greek island of Lesvos, Wadi has been working to build the technical capacity of local NGO Green Mytilini in the city of Mytilini. The project focuses on environmental education and action in schools and is combined with a single use plastics recycling project. Currently the local municipality is engaging with this project as well as 24 local schools who will be joining the project in the next months. This project is so exciting for primary school children and the response and enthusiasm has been phenomenal.
During the last year WADI in cooperation with local partners have printed a variety of awareness brochures and posters about different topics like water saving, how to create insect friendly gardens, and the use of herbs for curing minor illnesses. This material is used to assist the seminars in schools and villages and amplify the messages out to the local community.
Promoting and Highlighting Existing Natural Beauty
A huge part of engaging people on environmental issues is highlighting the nature that surrounds a community. It can be difficult to ‘see’ the beauty of nature and how important it is to us all when we feel that it is not accessible. With this in mind, Wadi in cooperation with long term partner NWE has been promoting the local nature in several ways.
The region around Halabja is surrounded by beautiful mountains and hills, and a team of all women volunteers have been setting up hiking trails to 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. Since 2018 NWE organisation supported by Wadi has been organising a monthly hiking tour for women promoting the participation of women in public life.
(Video: Wadi recently started a new environment campaign in co-operation with our partners “Rand – Plastic Art” in Kifri, ADWI. and Shred Up. It includes awareness campaigns in selected partner schools. This is a short video done by our partners from Kirkuk Now about putting locally made bins to collect plastic bottles and cans in one of these schools.)
Every year a local plants and herbs festival is held, it promotes the value and beauty of local plants. This event has become quite a local hit and is highlighted in local media. The festival engages people on how to eat, grow, and preserve local plants, and reconnect communities to their environment. With time so much knowledge of local plants and herbs is lost and it is very important to preserve and continue this, not just because of traditions but also because the positive impact of local plants on the environment is so strong, while non-native plants can wreak havoc and destroy the native plants and animals that depend on them.
Connecting with the public and networking with other local NGOs and local and regional media is an essential way of supporting all of our environmental projects. Highlighting engaged youth, team members and self organising groups and relating their experiences, concerns and successes is a key way of reaching people.
This is not the government telling you what to do, it is your neighbours, your cousins or your children organising themselves and working together to make your neighbourhood, school or marketplace a cleaner, greener and nicer place to be. These are simple messages that show how an idea and motivated and engaged group of people can really make a big difference in the daily lives of a community. These conversations with the public through local, regional and social media have created a buzz and energy around environmental projects and resulted in other areas asking for assistance and guidance in creating their own environmental projects.