Covid-19’s impact on the environment in the Kurdistan region is increasingly evident.
The impact of Covid-19 on hunting and deforestation
Badria Shahab, who works with her husband as a farmer in Rawanduz stated that “before Covid-19 pandemic there were a couple of people who used to come to the forest every month and cut down thousands of trees.”But now after facing this virus, they stopped deforestation. However, I’m not very happy because they might come back and do what they used to do after Covid-19 ends.”
Shahab pointed out another distribution problem: “We have another problem which is hunting. Before Covid-19, there weren’t so many people who came to the mountains to hunt animals, except in the holidays. But during this pandemic, there are many people at home who want to do something with their time. And I guess this is why, since facing Covid-19, many people started to come to the mountains and hunt animals like deers.”
Shahab mentioned also that, “before Covide-19, my daughter tried to convince some markets in Rawanduz to stop using plastic bags that instead they could use paper bags like supermarkets in the cities do. And she was able to convince them. After Covid-19 pandemic, she tried again and was able to convince three markets in Rawanduz to use paper bags, and they are still using them.”
“I think this is a good time for people who want to save the environment to present their ideas and projects. Because I think now people believe more in the risks of environmental issues, thanks to this virus,” Shahab said.
The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on hospital
In Wuhan, about 240 tons of littering is produced by hospitales during the COVID quarantine on a daily basis. According to their measurements,it was 6 times higher than in other years. This included plastic bags and bottles, and medical masks that were used extensively during the pandemic.
Mohammed Bader Xani, a doctor in Azadi Hospital in Kirkuk, stated: “Every month people enter this hospital because of food poisoning. Our water source in Kirkuk is full of plastic bags and other littering. Therefore, when people drink the local water, they get poisoned and sometimes they even lose their lives.”
“The rate of littering is increasing in Kirkuk, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. People started to use medical masks and gloves and then throw them away. They don’t even think that throwing them away could spread the virus — aside from the negative impact on the environment,” Bader Xani said.
Since the lockdown policy of COVID-19 means that people now stay at home more than before, people started to produce more household waste. Plus people started to order more food online that comes with packaging,which also led to increased food waste.
The head of Kirkuk Environmental Department, Farydun Waisy, stated: “Because of the Covid-19 pandemic quarantine, the companies that used to collect the littering from all areas in Kirkuk stopped work, claiming that they are worried about their health. So the amount of littering started to increase in Kirkuk.”
“Maybe this pandemic does have a positive effect on the environment. But people in Kirkuk can only see the littering and garbage covering the place — which I’m sure has a negative impact on our health,” Waisy explained.
The Iraqi government has revoked a contract with a local company in Kirkuk owned by Kurds, which has resulted in a garbage crisis in the oil-rich province, the owner of the business said on Thursday.
“Kirkuk started to become worse after the Covid-19 pandemic because littering companies stopped coming to clean up the areas. I cannot say that they stopped coming just because of the pandemic. It’s also because the government of Iraq stopped funding them,” Bader Xani said.
Xani emphasized: “This is since October 16th, when Hashad Al-Shabey (the Shiite militia and Iraqi forces that began controlling Kurdish areas) started to move all the Kurdish people from all the positions in all the fields, including the littering company that is owned by Kurds.”
Nadeen Rezga, a former worker in the garbage local company in Kirkuk, said: “Before the Iraqi government ended the contract with our company, we were working even without payment, because we wanted the best for Kirkuk. However, I think the environment and people’s health aren’t the government’s priorities.”
Khalid Shinke who is the head of the garbage removal firm, emphasized for Kurdistan 24 that the Iraqi government canceled the contract with his company on Feb. 28, leading to the suspension of garbage collection across Kirkuk.
Khalid Shinke who was the owner of Garbage Removal Company in Kirkuk stated that, “they didn’t want us to work anymore — not because of money or economic crisis, but because the problem is more political even when it comes to fighting a global disease called Covid-19.”
“Since the event of Oct 16th, when Iraqi armies started to control Kirkuk and the Kurdish forces Peshmarga left, there was a replacement with every Kurdish governmental position with Arabs. So I think they didn’t want to work and pay for us, because the owner of this company is Kurdish,” Shinke said.
The Garbage Company in Kirkuk city collects about 600 tons on a daily basis despite the city’s municipality only being able to handle 100 tons.
Ayat Mohammed, who is a citizen in Kirkuk, stated: “Every week people burn garbage because they think it’s the only solution to get rid of it. The air gets polluted by this burning that is toxic for our health, but nobody cares because the idea of racism is controlling their minds.”
“Now we understand that the government doesn’t want the former company to work again because it’s owned by Kurds. But why don’t they find and pay another company to collect the garbage that is all over the streets and neighbors? I think they just don’t care about how dangerous this pollution could be on our health especially during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mohammed said.
The impact of Covid-19 on pollution and increased physical activities
The quarantine and the social distancing of COVID-19 made people around the world stay home, which resulted in cleaner lakes and waterways and reduced littering.
Salah Ahmed, a 40 year-old Sulaymaniyah citizen, stated: “My house is next to a factory, and we live in a polluted environment. After the factory closed, I felt that I live in a cleaner environment since there are no more factories producing toxic gases. Aside from the noise that they were making.”
The quarantines policy made people stay at home and use less cars which reduced the use of oil, so this also led to a decrease in the rate of pollution in the air.
Shakar Ali, who is a farmer in Chamchamal, said: “I removed all of the greenhouses in my farm because it needed us to be in the farm all 24 hours. And because of this pandemic I preferred to stay at home, so we will stay safe.”
Because of COVID-19 restriction policy of lockdown, greenhouse gases have obviously decreased.
“Even the department of environment of Chamchamal ordered us to stop using greenhouses and to start planting more trees where possible, and ever since people started to plant trees everywhere in Chamchamal. I think Covid-19 does have a positive side on changing people’s behaviors and making them do the right thing toward the environment,” Ali said.
Because of COVID-19 lockdown, activities that produce pollution such as factories, travel and contraction sectors are closed and these all lead to decreasing the rate of pollution and toxic gases in the air.
Dr. Aisam Al- Hadady who lives in Erbil emphasized that “since facing the Covid-19 pandemic, many neighbors in Erbil started to ride bicycles to go to their work, instead of driving cars.”
“I don’t know if it’s related or not, but research done by a medical team in Kurdistan in March tells how many Covid-19 cases we have in some neighbors in Erbil where people mostly use bicycles instead of cars. The results of this research prove that there are zero Covid-19 cases in neighbors where people use fewer cars,” Al- Hadady said.
“However, the research also shows that there are a high number of deaths and Covid-19 cases in some neighbors in Erbil where people still use cars, which are polluting the environment,” Al- Hadady said.
Since COVID quarantine and lockdown restrictions, people were forced to stay at home and to practice social distancing, in which less cars were being used. This resulted in reduced demand for oil and its products, which has resulted in reduced emissions of smoke and waste due to oil consumption.
Hawrie Rasheed, who works in a juice production company in Erbil, said that “most workers in this company are from distant cities, so every week they come all the way to work in this company for a week and then go back again. After facing the Covid-19 pandemic, the company closed. So there are no more workers that have to come by cars, which I think reduces the toxic gases in the air.”
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), smoke that results from burning oil and the fire bombs in Baghdad and Southern Iraq are the main sources of pollution.
Nawzad Kelhory, secretary of the Environmental Minister of Kurdistan Regional Government/ Iraq, claimed that the rate of Co2 in the region is decreasing during the lockdown, since people began using fewer cars.
“Not just cars, but also we ordered factories that pollute the air to be closed during this pandemic, and this also played a role in decreasing the rate of CO2,” Kelhory said.
Because of social distancing and the reduced use of cars, researchers and experts think that the rate of greenhouse gases (GHG) could fall similar to what it did during World War II.
“Having a more healthy and clean air may not have a direct effect on decreasing the number of Covid-19 cases. But people started becoming healthier by riding bicycles, walking, going to parks and hiking. These are all signs that people started to become more active, which has a positive effect on the environment,” Kelhory said.
The lockdown of COVID-19 required citizens to stay at home, socially distance and use fewer cars, which caused air pollution to drop.
Ahmed Baker, a 25-year-old citizen in Kirkuk, said: “Before Covid-19, I used my car for anywhere I wanted to go, even if I was going somewhere close. However, after the lockdown, I started to walk or ride my bicycle. I was a person who suffers from weight issues, but after this pandemic I stopped using my car and I lost so much weight.”
Researchers like Glen Peters of Center for International Climate Environment emphasized that the global pollution around the world, including in Iraq, has dropped by 0.3%.
The impact of Covid-19 on waterways and lakes and reduced littering
The secretary of the Environmental Minister of KRG, Nawzad Kelhory, stated that “We always were facing Dukan littering when tourists used to come and visit, especially during the holidays. However, after the Covid-19 lockdown, Dukan was no longer affected by littering and noise.”
“Other lakes and tourism places like Kuna Masi and Galy Ali Bak became cleaner after Covid-19 lockdown. Tourists stopped visiting, which decreased the amount of littering,” Kelhory said.
Beaches are part of the places people head to when they want to have a good time and get fresh air, so they have to be responsible for protecting it from pollution and not throwing waste on the beach leads to pollution.
Adnan Berwary, a 53-year-old farmer in Gop Tapa, stated that “Before the Covide-19 pandemic, holiday tourists always used to come to Gop Tapa beach and then leave their litter without collecting them. Now, because of the lockdown that stopped people from coming, the beach and the water are more clean and green.”
“Besides the litter that people used to leave on the beach, they also used to hunt and kill animals and also cut down trees. However, due to the Covid-19 lock down policy, animals are more happy and safe now. But this is a short term solution. The government should ban people from polluting the environment with their littering and destroy the habitats,” Berwary said.
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