War-torn cities in Iraq keen to boost reconstruction efforts by recycling debris

News and Press Release
Originally published

Ramadi, 12 November 2018 - Aiming for more sustainable options for dealing with the huge amounts of rubble borne out of the ISIL conflict, municipalities of around half a dozen devastated cities in western Iraq explored opportunities to establish debris recycling centres to help advance recovery efforts at a two-day workshop held in Ramadi's Anbar University on 7-8 November 2018.

Hosted by Anbar Governorate and organized in collaboration with the Iraq Ministry of Health and Environment with technical advisory support from UN Environment, the gathering brought together - for the first time - key stakeholders from local authorities, technical government departments, university academics, demining experts, as well as UN agencies to discuss more sustainable options for dealing with the huge amounts of rubble created by the ISIL conflict.

"Over two years since retaking most of Anbar's shattered cities from the grips of ISIL terrorists in 2016, rubble continues to be a major obstacle for tens of thousands of displaced persons to regain their homes, and restart their lives and businesses," said Mr. Mustapha Arsan, deputy governor of Anbar Governorate.

Municipal representatives from the most damaged cities of Ramadi, Haditha, Hit, Qaim and Kubaisa, in Iraq's upper Euphrates region, underscored the major problems they continue to face in removing colossal volumes of rubble. Lack of debris removal equipment and inadequate operational budgets were highlighted as major constraints. While most of the rubble in the streets has been removed, much of the remaining debris will be generated from building demolition.

The Qaim Maqam (head of district) of Ramadi, Mr. Ibrahim Al-Awsaj, stated that around 80 percent of Ramadi - capital of Anbar governorate with a population of over 570,000 people before the conflict - lay in ruins. Preliminary estimates by Ramadi municipality indicate that around three of the seven million tonnes of debris have so far been removed with extensive support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)'s Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization.

Furthermore, debris removal is significantly complicated by exceptionally high levels of contamination with unexploded ordnance and booby traps. "Over 20,000 explosive devices have so far been from Ramadi city alone," said Mr. Al-Awsaj. Training and establishing clear procedures for dealing with explosives in the debris is a critical prerequisite for clearing-up the rubble.

"Debris continues to be scooped and dumped in an uncontrolled manner creating serious health and environmental risks and burdensome economic liabilities for the future," decried Mr. Qais Abd, head of the Anbar Environment Directorate. Mr. Abd added that "future campaigns to remove debris haphazardly dumped all over the place may be needed," engendering additional costs for the financially strapped local authorities.

Emphasizing that many other post-conflict cities faced similar challenges, UN Environment expert Martin Bjerregaard affirmed that considerable experience exists from elsewhere that can help inform Anbar's debris management efforts. "We are not starting from scratch here," said Mr. Bjerregaard, who went on to share lessons from neighbouring Mosul as well as Syria, Lebanon, Philippines, and going to back the Balkans conflict in the late 1990s.

The workshop also highlighted ongoing work by UNDP's Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization and the International Organization Migration to establish debris recycling centres in Mosul with technical advice from UN Environment. This initiative will help create much needed jobs through cash-for-work programmes.

Original research by Anbar University engineer Mr. Salah Thameel found that crushed debris from Ramadi were of high quality and complied with Iraqi engineering standards for use in civil works, including as underlying subbase for roads. "The cost of crushing the debris is about one third of buying fresh quarry materials and, if transportation costs are added, it would account for only 10 percent," explained Mr. Thameel. Furthermore, "by reusing the crushed debris, we would significantly reduce negative environmental impacts of quarrying and polluting emissions from trucking gravel from quarry sites," he asserted.

Crushing debris would not only significantly facilitate rubble removal operations by reducing the volumes handled, but would also result in important cost savings. "We are eager to start with recycling and welcome support from the friends of Iraq to help us in rebuilding our damaged cities," stated Ms. Asmaa Osama, President of the Committee of Health and Environment and member of Anbar Provincial Council.

Workshop participants further recommended that an Anbar-wide debris management action plan led by the Governorate is developed to help coordinate debris recycling efforts across its damaged cities. Key actions including identification of potential sites for setting-up debris recycling centres were also discussed with a specific focus on Ramadi city as a demonstration pilot.


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Hassan, Programme Manager at UN Environment's Crisis Management Branch, Policy and Programme Division