Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Baghdad Officials Warn of Pollution Risk

With no one to collect it, residents say they’ve no option but to burn household waste themselves.
By Haider al-Moosawi

The collapse of garbage-collection services has led to a dangerous increase in the amount of hazardous materials being burned on the capital’s streets.

Baghdad health officials are now warning residents not to burn household rubbish as it is causing pollution and other health hazards.

Since the fall of the Saddam regime, municipal services, such as garbage collection, have struggled because of staffing and financial problems, prompting residents to dispose of waste themselves.

And as evidence of the lawlessness that plagues Iraq, some residents who have tried to stop people from burning garbage have been shot or received death threats.

Suad Salman, who is in charge of Baghdad’s health education programme, said his office had organised a campaign to educate people about the dangers of incinerating their rubbish.

“It’s a real problem especially when there are lots of plastic materials that create poisonous vapours,” said Salman. “We have asked the Baghdad municipality to put an end to this phenomenon.”

Majid Abdullah, a civil servant, said his home in the poor district of Bayya is surrounded by stores whose owners burn their plastic waste and other garbage at night. “It has caused many health problems for us,” he said. “We complained to the municipal office, but we have not received an answer yet.”

Housewife Sameera Mohammed said trying to urge people not to burn waste was asking for trouble, “When we tried to stop them, they beat my husband and shot him in the leg,” she said.

The Baghdad municipality has so far been unable to provide adequate rubbish removal services because most of their equipment was stolen during the looting that occurred after the fall of Saddam.

Baghdad municipality official Ibraheem Moosa said that problems had also been caused by corrupt contractors’ failure to carry out their duties. “We stopped working with them and we are about to hire a new company and buy new vehicles to collect the waste,” he said.

“But people are not cooperating with the municipality to put an end to this uncivilised phenomenon.”

In addition to burning garbage, residents are also littering and many parts of the city have been turned into makeshift landfill sites. Even areas near schools and mosques are surrounded by trash.

Headmaster Ahmed Alwan said that getting rid of the waste around his school is a constant problem, as residents throw their garbage away every night.

“We suffered a lot from rats and other animals,” said Alwan. “We haven’t received a response from the municipal office, so we have no other solution but to burn the waste to get rid of it.”

Haider al-Moosawi and Ali Marzook are IWPR trainees in Baghdad.