Poland Insight

Polish organisation lends helping hand to thirsty Iraqis

irak, Pcpm

Iraq is drying up, and Iraqis lack running water. Climate change, the influx of internal migrants fleeing terror and the lack of water infrastructure take their toll on Iraqis’ access to drinking water.

Hope for a better tomorrow comes – among other places – from Poland, with the Polish Center for International Aid working on the frontlines of development aid in northern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.

In Iraq as in much of the Middle East, the water shortage situation is getting worse every year, and more and more families are forced to abandon their houses and towns and migrate to larger agglomerations. The lack of access to running water concerns, among others, inhabitants of northern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to the United Nations, Iraq is ranked as one of the world’s five most vulnerable nations to climate change and desertification. The World Bank warned in 2021 that Iraq could suffer a 20% drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change.

A chairman of the water directorate in the city of Sheihan in Iraqi Kurdistan, Khairy Khader Yazdeen tells Kafkadesk that the drought and the lack of rain caused the groundwater to dramatically dry up.

“In addition, the need for water increased significantly due to the refugees who took refuge in our country from ISIS. Due to these changes in water resources, we are forced to dig deeper and deeper, but the water deficit is increasing. Some of our residents use water from cisterns and special tanks”, Khairy Khader Yazdeen tells us.

Sheihan lies in the disputed territories between the KRI (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and federal Iraq. It is one of the areas of northern Iraq with the greatest influx of internally displaced people, i.e. Iraqis fleeing the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist organisations. As a result of hostilities, the population of Sheihan District increased by 50% within four years. About half of the internal migrants currently live in three camps, the rest in the district’s towns and villages.

Polish NGO helping tackle water shortages

The inhabitants of the village of Batnaya in northern Iraq admit that the lack of running water was a serious problem and one of the reasons why the village is depopulating.

“There used to be 1,500 families here, today only 180. A lot of people fled ISIS, we were on the frontline, and the inhabitants moved to Kurdistan. We are a village on the border between federal Iraq and Kurdistan, but neither side wants us, because we are mostly Chaldeans, so as a minority we are a problem. We can see a lot of interest from various foreign organizations, but apart from the fact that they come here, ask about our needs, not much takes place”, says Abu Yusef, a resident of Batnaya.

One of the organizations providing help to the local community is the Polish Center for International Aid (PCPM), a non-governmental organisation founded in 2006 and now working in a dozen countries around the world. As part of the MASAR (Maintaining Strength and Resilience for Local Governments in Iraq and Lebanon) project, the PCPM Foundation repaired the sewage network in Batnaya.

An investment worth over $200,000 provides sewage services to around 200 families who have already returned to the town, with hopes for additional returns in the long run. The Polish organisation, which counts seven full-time workers in Iraq in addition to a network of technicians and experts, has also built water networks in the western part of the city of Sheihan and the villages of Bibawa and Kame. Water intakes were built, and water pipes and electric lines were installed.

“Thanks to PCPM, wells and water pumps have been created that supply water to the western part of our city. Currently, they are used by 1,400 citizens, ultimately it will be 4,000-5,000 citizens. Thanks to water pumps, we are able to build a sewage and a water supply system using wider pipes that transport more water and we can deliver it to the most remote parts of the city”, explains the chairman of Sheihan’s water directorate.

Abu Yusef, a resident of Batnaya village adds that thanks to the improvements provided by the Poles, local residents now have a system that takes all the dirty water from households and discharges it into the sewage collector.

“Previously, we were able to deal somehow with the water supply because we used large tanks, but the problem was with dirty water – all the sewage either spilled out onto the field or was taken by the sewage machine, which additionally cost. When dirty water rushed onto the field, it destroyed roads and crops, and smelled bad”, Abu Yusef tells Kafkadesk.

Aid organizations are also trying to raise awareness for millions of Iraqis about the risk posed by climate change and the waste of the most valuable resource – water. In addition to infrastructure investments in northern Iraq, the Polish Center for International Aid conducts an educational campaign for the local community to popularize water saving methods.

How to save water

“We place great emphasis on social education in the field of reducing water consumption. We have also produced an educational video with our local partners, which we want to publish on local social media channels”, explains the representative of PCPM in Iraq, Jarosław Zarychta.

In Sheihan, the educational campaign consisted of leaflets distributed door-to-door to all households that had access to drinking water, and volunteers’ conversations with household members. An educational video was shot in Mosul that will be broadcast on the social media of the Mosul Water Directorate and possibly on public television.

In Mosul, with the help of the PCPM Foundation, an electronic water billing system is being implemented. Until now, the register was kept in the books, and most residents did not pay for water at all. PCPM handed over the server, workstations and software, thanks to which, step by step, subsequent quarters of the city will be covered by a computer water consumption register, and water charges will be introduced, depending on the meter reading.

The director of the water department in Mosul, Maan Sadiq Yusef, emphasizes that the introduction of an electronic measurement system for water consumption will allow charging for water consumption, translating into lower consumption.

“We’ve supplied the local water department with Oracle software. It is a system of the highest European standards. As with other projects implemented by PCPM in Iraq, we wanted a very high-quality product that we donate to the Iraqis. We want them to feel that they are working on the same systems and devices as in Europe, and we want this to be the level that other municipal services in Iraq strive for”, Zarychta, a PCPM representative in Iraq, tells Kafkadesk.

For now, it is a pilot project, but ultimately 180,000 households in the Mosul agglomeration could be connected to the system.  But still, the local administration representatives emphasize that the existing infrastructure is not able to meet the increased demand for municipal services resulting from the inflow of over 100,000 refugees from other regions of Iraq.

The activities of organizations such as PCPM significantly improve the situation in the regions most exposed to water shortage. They are however only a drop in an ocean of growing needs as the country and the entire region struggles with the devastating effects of climate change and decades of poor management.

By Nikodem Chinowski