22 April 2014
IRAQI KURDISTAN: Speaking truth to power, for the sake of clean water
Last week, the team met with a man who has done his best to address the threats
to the water supply here in Iraqi Kurdistan, but now feels that he has reached
the end of his rope. Mohammed—he
wishes to stay anonymous because of threats—has degrees in geology and
hydrology and has worked with
water issues both here and abroad. Two years ago Mohammed came back after spending several years
in a European country, eager to use his knowledge for the benefit of his
people. In different ways, he has
tried to educate people and authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan about the importance
of clean drinking water and how to ensure pure water for future generations.
|Exxon Mobil oil rig near Sartka, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Its partner, Maersk Oil, implies on its website
that the company may use
high-volume horizontal fracturing
in its Iraqi Kurdistan wells.
Since one major threat to the water is oil drilling and oil refineries,
Mohammed has studied these operations in Kurdistan and their effects on the
environment. He is asking the Kurdish
authorities to take the responsibility of choosing competent people to decide
whether or not to grant concessions to oil companies—something he feels is not
happening currently. One example
he mentions is the building of a big oil refinery outside of Sulaimani. At the location of the refinery, only
seven meters below the earth’s surface, there is a big underground lake of
fresh water. Such a place should
have a protected status, instead of facing contamination by the refinery’s
Last year people with connections to the parties in power warned Mohammed to
stop his activities “for his own sake,” but he has continued writing articles
and presenting seminars about the threat to the water supply. Early this year he participated in a
television show about pollution from oil operations. Since then he has received several threats over the phone,
men calling from unknown numbers, saying he must stop what he’s doing or
something might happen to him or to his children. He is convinced that his phone is tapped, and feels
constantly watched. One evening a
couple of months ago two men on a motorbike came up from behind as Mohammed was
approaching his house. One of them
hit Mohammed over the nose with a gun, before they quickly disappeared, leaving
Mohammed is considering leaving the country again. He feels disillusioned with the political life of Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Education and experience isn’t
valued here. It’s all about
belonging to the right party,” he says. For now his energy is depleted.
It is a risky thing to speak truth to those in power. We think of all the defenders of human
rights that we know here in Kurdistan, and hope they receive the strength to
continue their work. And that
those of us living more secure lives can stand by their side, in solidarity.
By means of water, we give life to everything.