With one tap of their finger, Iraqis can now report environmental pollution plaguing their communities on a new app, and start campaigns encouraging the government to take action.
Activist Wissam Jaafar Radi recently launched the app, The Environmental Platform, in a groundbreaking effort to combat the devastating effects of widespread pollution in the country.
“The idea behind the app was to make it easier for citizens to be part of the environment protection system,” he told The National.
Mr Radi, who heads the Baghdad-based Tawasul for Youth Empowerment NGO, believes that raising awareness among citizens can be a game-changer in the fight against pollution, and could save Iraq from an environmental catastrophe.
“I believe that raising awareness among citizens can be a powerful tool to pressure the government and decision-makers into taking meaningful actions,” he said.
“Pollution in Iraq is catastrophic,” warned Mr Radi. “It affects every aspect of our lives, from our health and well-being to the destruction of our natural ecosystems. We must act now to protect our homeland.”
Through the user-friendly app, Iraqis cannot only report pollution-related issues but also pinpoint their exact location on an interactive map.
But the app goes beyond just reporting; it serves as a rallying platform where activists and concerned citizens can launch targeted campaigns to combat environmental issues.
From air pollution to water contamination and improper waste disposal, ordinary Iraqis can play a role in demanding more action from decision-makers.
A dedicated team verifies reports carefully before publishing them on the app, and preparing detailed assessments to be sent directly to the relevant government departments.
“We want to ensure that the government receives accurate and evidence-backed information,” Mr Radi said. “This will bolster our fight against pollution and make it harder for them to turn a blind eye.”
Mr Radhi's brainchild has gained swift and significant traction with thousands of Iraqis joining the movement to fight against pollution.
Between 50 to 70 reports are sent everyday on the NGO's Facebook page and app, he said.
“You can’t imagine the extent of the pollution nationwide. Every 50 to 100 kilometres there is an environmental problem,” he said.
Reports received so far have included complaints of untreated sewage and factory waste being discharged into rivers, unlicensed melting metal and chemical factories, crude oil spillages and pollution caused by oil companies, he added.
“This is a game-changer!” Ahmed Abdullah Al Shalash, head of the Farmers Association in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad, told The National. “We finally have a voice, and it's being heard. Together, we can reclaim our environment.”
When ISIS overran large parts of northern and western Iraq in mid-2014, they extracted crude oil from a number of fields to secure funds needed for their operations.
Among them were the Alas and Ajeel oilfields in the Hamrin mountains in northern Iraq, about 15 kilometres away from Mr Al Shalash's hometown, Al Alam. The militants constructed large earthen basins for collecting crude oil before loading it into tankers.
“That allowed the crude oil to seep into the soil through cracks, and the rainwater also carried it in the valleys to find its way to the agricultural areas in and around Al Alam,” Mr Al Shalash said.
“Since then, whenever it rains our lands and wells get damaged. We have been appealing for help, to no avail,” he added.
This year, at least 500 hectares of wheat and dozens of wells have been damaged, causing financial losses of up to 15 million Iraqi dinar (about $11,000) for each farmer, he said.
An advocacy campaign on the environmental app features striking pictures and videos of the pollution, encouraging people to sign a petition.
Those efforts seem to have paid off as Mr Al Shalash is set to meet Iraq's Environment Minister Nazar Amedi to discuss the issues raised.
Decades of war, UN-imposed sanctions, political and security instability and mismanagement have pushed pollution in Iraq to worrying levels.
The country is plagued by oil pollution, discharging untreated waste into waterways and even nuclear and dioxin contamination.
“The environmental situation in Iraq is very bad. We are going to face a real catastrophe and there is a shortage in reliable data from the government,” Mr Radi said.