Water Pollution Assessment of the Canals in Basrah City, Iraq, October 2020

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Trash detected: 4719 locations*
Vegetation detected: 3029 locations
Algae detected: 180 locations


The city of Basrah is experiencing an environmental disaster in its waterways: the crisscrossed canals, which once provided an abundance of fresh water throughout the city, are now heavily polluted. Located in the lower reaches of the Tigris-Euphrates basin and running right through the heart of the city, discharge from the Shatt-al-Arab River is reducing due to intensive upstream use. As water levels drop, the concentration of pollutants increases, including household trash, sewage, industrial waste, pesticides, and encroaching seawater. By the time the river feeds into Basrah’s waterways, it contains dangerous levels of bacteria, chemicals, toxic algae and salinity. And as the water levels drop, the turbidity caused by high concentrations of sediment can disable aging water treatment plants. The buildup of solid waste in Basrah endangers the health and wellbeing of the local population, which is largely reliant on the water to meet their needs, conditions that are likely to be further aggravated by expected population growth and climate change.

REACH Iraq conducted a solid waste assessment in the main canals of Basrah as a first step to highlight the poor state of this vital infrastructure. The information surrounding trash in the main canals is minimal and more attention to this environmental disaster is needed. This assessment was based exclusively on satellite data and secondary data, without ground-truthing by REACH. Additional in-person research is necessary to have a better understanding of the dynamics of solid waste and other pollutants in Basrah’s canals. This would give insight into issues such as: the health and economic implications of this contamination; whether these issues affect certain populations more than others; if the buildup exhibits any seasonality or other pattern; and, if there are already any successful local solutions to mitigating these problems.