SOUTH KURDISTAN : A message for the caretakers of Kurdistan

By Bakhtiar Zuhdi – KURDISTAN TRIBUNE – 31 Oct 2012 – The clock is ticking. Kurdistan is on the map. The eyes of the largest corporations in the world are on us. Kurdistan is emerging fast. We must be ready for it.

A decade of brutal repression and genocide may have left us with a culture of fear, uncertainty and lack of confidence, especially among our older generation. However, the Kurdish ‘baby boomer’ or young generation since the 1990s accounts for half our population. They have no such fears nor are they connected to the morass of the past. They look at the future through a different lens. They were born free and hope to stay free. The freedoms they seek are self-reliance with equal opportunity for all to be wealthy, happy and free.

Our region is rich in natural beauty, untapped resources, fresh water and fertile land. This place was once called the cradle of humanity. Today, with its buried history,Kurdistan is coming back to become a viable, stable and prosperous oasis for this region.

In today’s dynamic world, we must become a good steward for our land and the people we serve. We should show the new generation how to appreciate, protect and improve these natural treasures.

Our experience in self-rule may be new. The political and social changes taking place around Kurdistan are also new and positive. Our leadership should be flexible to accept and quickly adopt good changes. The changes we seek are ones to take our people forward. Our prosperity depends on a sound economic system with a level playing field for us all. Our young system can bring these dreams to reality gradually. We can build the foundations of a system that provides these basic freedoms and a good quality of life.

With the power of the people in our system, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) can move forward to set high goals and a clear destiny. In this endeavor, we need good guidance and a balanced approach. The Kurdish Parliament needs to adopt and outline good and comprehensive policies that can be implemented by the KRG. The opportunities to do it right are there. The challenge is on all of us together.

Rapid urbanisation

Today, in the face of the rush to be rich, own property, have cars or build an empire, we are taking our eyes off the ball. Our major cities in Kurdistan have fallen victim to this ‘gold rush’ phenomenon. Block after block of multi-story residential buildings mixed with commercial buildings have been built or are under construction. Unknown private corporations are behind these projects which have no rational planning, zoning or building standards.

These new developments are conducive to the migration of local people from rural areas to the cities or from the southern part of Iraq to Kurdistan without any restriction and control. These developments have subjected everyone to chaotic congestion, traffic jams, artificial inflation and unsafe health conditions.


Another growing problem goes beyond the lack of jobs for the new generation; it is a problem paralyzing our young system from moving forward. This problem is corruption and inefficiency in the system. This phenomenon is seen throughout Iraq but Kurdistan has a lion’s share of it. Corruption and inefficiency exist in the healthcare, agriculture, education, industry, transportation, housing, urban planning and environmental sectors. The main reason is the lack of opportunity for equal access to be rich and the lack of government policy for each of these sectors.

The KRG and the parliament are to be held accountable for the lack of progress in formulating policies since 2003. We are still operating in the shadow of the past. Political parties are choking all the sensitive joints of government and bringing real progress to a halt.

Chaotic construction boom

The construction boom today is chaotic at best. People are confused and divided. For the limited few, the setup is great but the majority are left to their own devices. The general population considers the government to be the source for everything. Granted, the government has done so much and still has its hands full with many side issues. This situation is not sustainable forever… It is our aspiration to put forward some suggestions that our decision-makers can pay attention to.

Healthcare and environmental conditions

Due to the lack of a healthcare and environmental policy, the system is structured to respond to events after the fact. With the population increase, health issues, food and water contamination, crude oil and gasoline spills, unsafe roads and traffic jams, air pollution and a whole host of other possible contamination could become dominant problems in our region. The least visible and most long-lasting effect is the problem of water contamination, which we will mainly focus on.

Drinking water and contaminants

Drinking water quality will deteriorate over time due to population growth in the cities of Kurdistan. To maintain water quality, we must upgrade drinking water treatment facilities and maintain source water quality as the first barrier to contaminants that could endanger public health – because drinking water treatment requirements are increasingly based on the levels of constituents present in source water.

In the process of developing a Drinking Water Policy, we must identify a list of prioritized water quality constituents of concern:

Disinfection by-product precursors (DBP): organic carbon

Dissolved minerals: total dissolved solids, salinity

Nutrients: nitrogen species (organic, nitrate, nitrite, ammonia) and phosphorus species (total, orthophosphate)

Pathogens and indicator organisms

Sources of contamination

Because the infrastructure is still in an early stage of development, the contamination could come from a variety of sources, such as:

Tourism activities and Urban Population Expansion

Lack of sewage system

Lack of disposal site for municipal and industrial waste

Existing Water Distribution System

 Lack of a sewage system

Organic contamination can enter the rivers and waterways in rainfall runoff, natural organic substances coming from decaying natural organic matter (NOM) and from synthetic sources. Synthetic sources are insecticides , herbicides, and domestic and industrial waste-waters.

Synthetic Organic Contaminants (SOCs) are man-made compounds used for a variety of industrial and agricultural purposes.  This group of contaminants includes pesticides, PCBs, and dioxin.  Synthetic Organic Contaminant health effects include damage to the nervous system, kidneys and cancer risks.

Since the early 1970s, the Total Organic Carbone (TOC) has been recognized as an analytic technique to measure water quality during the drinking water purification process. This technique must be used in the purification process.

The use of TOC measurements shows the number of carbon-containing compounds in a source in mg/L. This method provides an important role in quantifying the amount of NOM in the water source. The water treatment facilities in Kurdistan use chloride containing disinfectants. When the raw water is chlorinated from Dokan, for example, active chlorine compounds react with NOM to produce chlorinated disinfection by-products (DBPs). Many researchers have determined that higher levels of NOM in source water during the disinfection process will increase the amount of carcinogens in the processed drinking water.

Lake Dokan

Slemani drinking water comes from Lake Dokan. The water is pumped through a pipeline from the Qashquly Pump Station to the Slemani Water Treatment Place. The water purification process is by chlorinated disinfection and most of this water comes from the Iraqi side of Kurdistan. Big cities such as Qaladezy, Ranya and Chwarqurna , Mawat and the region of Sharbazer communities are located within the watershed of this lake. The waste water from all these communities is ultimately discharging into Lake Dokan.

Sirwan River and Alwand River

The two major rivers Sirwan and Alwand  are coming from Iran. Alwand water quality has changed and deteriorated due to a heavy use of water for agricultural activities between Sar Pol-e-Zahab and Qasri Shereen on the Iranian side. Both rivers have been obstructed from time to time by the construction of new dams and the divergence of the waters.

Lake Darbandi Khan

This lake is located south-east of the city of Slemani. This city’s population is reaching one million people. The rainfall runoff drainage system in the city combines waste water with surface runoff in an underground gravity-box drain system. The raw sewage flows to Tangarow River and from there to Lake Darbandi Khan. Other cities and towns in the Shahrazoor valley have the same set-up. The accumulated effects of these materials in Lake Darbandi Khan can be seen in summer when the temperature rises and oxygen depletion gets to such a level that micro-organisms grow in the form of black water that kills thousands of small fish in the water.

Municipal disposal sites

In the absence of infrastructure and regulation, the tourism industry and urban expansion will leave behind piles upon piles of garbage in sensitive and beautiful parts of the countryside. Most of this trash ends up in open garbage sites (dump sites) with women and young children picking up salvageable trash. In some municipal land-fills, the city workers try to burn the trash in open fires, but in the process they create air pollution and ash that get dissolved in the surface runoff.

Many dump sites in rural areas attract animals and birds searching for food. No doubt the only food that can be found is contaminated and decomposed. Today and after 20 years of Kurdish self-rule, our cities and rural areas lack sewage treatment facilities in general. This must be changed.

Dust storms and flying air particles

From the Southern Iraq deserts, dust storms reach Kurdistan and deposit many thousands of tons of fine soil particles on the mountains and valleys of Kurdistan. The runoff from these mountains carrying these dust particles ends up in the lakes in Kurdistan. This happens almost every year from late spring through summer. These lakes need to be tested each year, before and after the dust storm season, to determine the salinity change and the type and amount of dissolved minerals.

Existing water distribution system

The water distribution system in the Kurdish cities is old, outdated, rusty and leaking. This system lacks the integrity even to provide enough high pressure to be used for fighting fires.

The introduction of organic matter into water systems occurs, not only from living organisms,  but also from purification and distribution system materials. A relationship may exist between endotoxins, microbial growth, and the development of biofilms on pipeline walls and biofilm growth within pharmaceutical distribution systems. A correlation is believed to exist between TOC concentrations and the levels of endotoxins and microbes. Sustaining low TOC levels helps to control levels of endotoxins and microbes and thereby the development of biofilm growth.

In short, water contamination is happening in Iraqi Kurdistan. Our shallow underground water or surface water is not protected within the cities due to surface seepage of contaminants and leaky sewage systems. Our rivers and lakes are receiving untreated sewage during the rainy seasons.

It is important to note that we have control over our side of the border to regulate and protect the quality of the water source. The KRG should plan ahead to capture and store seasonal runoff each year and switch the source of drinking water from Lake Dokan and  Darbandi Khan to these local storage sites in the future.

Good regulations to be considered by the KRG

While government cannot regulate natural hazards such as drought, floods, earthquake, it can regulate and control man-made contamination.

In many countries, legislative and administrative measures have been adopted to deal with many man-made hazards and pollutants resulting from tourism, urban expansion, and industrial and agriculture activities.

Below is a short list of some laws in many countries around the globe which can help us in the fight against contamination. These laws can be re-written to suit Kurdistan:

Clean Water Act

Waste Disposal Act

Public Health Act.

Pure Food Act.

Construction and Safety Act.

Factories, Shops and Industries Act.

Stock Food and Medicines Act.

Pesticide Act.

Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

In Kurdistan, as we move forward, we need a strong coherent policy to deal with all of the issues mentioned. We need a clean drinking water, water conservation and soil conservation policy. We need a strong land management policy to identify and dedicate all known scenic routes, mountains and historic places or landmarks as national treasures to be protected by law and exempted from privatization, industry use, and mining and oil explorations.

Establishing these policies will keep our watersheds in a healthy condition and minimize the amount of effort to clean drinking water and reduce the burden on the system. We need an agriculture policy that keeps agricultural lands for agricultural use only; an industry policy that protects the environment and people from toxic waste; and a health care policy that provides facilities with the latest equipment and training for the staff – a policy that emphasizes prevention and education. Finally, we need an education policy that raises general awareness, and includes environmental study in the early stages of education.

The KRG needs to adopt very coherent policies and begin to implement them over a few years. Today, large corporations are here to drill or to build infrastructure. We need to have these laws and clear policies so that any public contract signed will implement the spirit of these policies. It is a solemn duty of our system to elevate life and liberty and the well-being of our people in a safe manner.

Independent protection agencies for the KRG’s consideration

Our parliament needs to pass regulations and create an independent watchdog agency that can help the implementation of these new policies and report back to parliament. The parliament needs to lay down the rights and the responsibilities of each agency. Below are some examples of new agencies to be considered:

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Water Quality Control Board

Air Quality Control Board

Beroué of land Management

Occupational Health and Safety Commission or Agency ( OSHA)

Transportation Quality Agency (TQA)

These agencies can work, not only with the KRG to properly implement these programs through various ministries, but also report back to the special committees in parliament for a follow up and monitoring process.

Suggested solutions

Under the water protection policy, we need to provide sewage treatment facilities for rural and urban areas as follows:

For Rural Areas: It should be a mandatory condition on the region’s budget to construct large Holding Tanks (Septic Tanks) and Leach Fields away from the water source in every village or community in Kurdistan that is located on riverbanks.

For every group of communities or villages, construct sanitary sewage treatment plants based on population usage and geographic location. Contract out the service for each village to transport the sludge to these treatment plants on a regular basis for processing. This program can help the private sector to create jobs and control the amount of carbon in our water.

For Urban Areas, construct a new sewage system with sewer pipes separate from the old box system. Dedicate the existing system (Box System) to storm drainage only.

Construct new sewage treatment plants for all major cities and recycle the effluents for landscaping and agricultural purposes.

Under the water conservation policy, government should help the private sector establish small ponds and lakes on their private property. Encourage the use of hydroponic systems to grow fish and vegetables with the same water, use drip irrigation and greenhouses and to help farmers create local, natural, organic fertilizer.

Government must adopt a policy to nationalize and dedicate all important mountains, above certain elevations, historical places and landmarks as national treasures to be preserved forever.

Improve on the quality of our roads and bridges and establish mass transit for and between the main cities, enforce speed limits and provide: side fences, overpasses and underpasses for pedestrians and animals, rest areas on the main roads equipped with restrooms, gas stations, coffee shops every few kilometers and public emergency phones every few kilometers of the road. This program will help minimize accidents and land and water pollution. It should be on the priority list for this government.

Establish public parks and picnic areas with full service and collect fees for security and maintenance. The private sector should be allowed to open private picnic areas with city permits, meeting all required conditions from the new agencies in charge. No picnic should be allowed outside the formal picnic areas.

Construct new water purification facilities and adopt the latest technology with modernized new water distribution systems.

Construct Water Storage-small dams, not to exceed 20 meters in height, to capture all storm runoff for re-use as drinking water.

Under these policies, continued education – with examinations and accreditation – should become mandatory for our professionals in the engineering, medical and pharmaceutical fields who do business in Kurdistan.

About Bakhtiar Zuhdi: Registered Professional Civil Engineer @ State of California 1986 M.S. Soil/Hydraulic Engineering; Principal Engineer at B. A. Zuhdi Consulting Engineers since 2000;  M.S., Civil Engineering, 1979, University of Mississippi; B.S., Civil Engineering, 1969,University of Basra,Iraq; Published Paper: “Transport of Sediment along Crop-Row Furrows” (ASAE), Report No. 81-7056,Orlando,Florida, June 24, 1981; ”Outstanding Project of the Year” Award, ASGE/CALin 1986 for the Pier 39 Breakwater Project; Project of the Year 1998, ENVIRONMENT $ 2M-10M ,APWA Top Ten Award throughout USA for the Charleston Slough Restoration.City of Mountain View, CA; President of Kurdish Relief Aid/ California, Non Profit Organization Since 1987; Publisher of Azadi Kurdistan Quarterly.