My life currently revolves around two dates. The date I have to leave for Iraq, and the date I gain my freedom after the shift. The vicious circle repeats itself every 28 days. The best moment happens when I land in Dubai (or Doha) and check myself into the transit hotel, or the airport lounge. “Civilization” Ahhh. “Taste of Freedom” Oh yes. “Starbucks” Hmm Neat…
That feeling is however shortlived. As soon as I arrive home the next morning, my mental clock immediately starts the countdown to the next departure.
While most people talk about the protest in Hong Kong, which is horrible in its own right no matter which side you’re on, there is a forgotten protest that is still continuing all over Iraq. The violence and casualties of the protest are on a different scale. Last time I checked, there were already over 300 deaths and thousands more injured. Yet you will hardly see this mentioned on the news in mainstream media.
How did it affect me and expat workers here? Not much to be honest. Besides the occasional inconvenience like evacuation drills or small disruptions to business operations, our daily routine remains the same. Everyone is sympathetic to the grievances of local people, but we are also worried that angry protesters might try to break into the oil field and escalate the situation. That happened last year during another protest in the city.
I feel guilty for saying this, but this small inconvenience turned out to be one of the best road trips I’ve had in Basra. As we prepared to leave the camp for my off-shift, the security team told us that the main highway to airport was blocked by the protesters…and that we would have to take a long detour. I wasn’t happy at first, but as we slowly made our way through the rural area, I realized I was treated to a nice surprise. This 3-hour journey took us through a beautiful marsh land called East Hammar. On a rainy morning, this just made the whole journey so enjoyable.
I’ll admit that I’m being a little selfish. I wish I could go back to see the marshland. But it probably wouldn’t happen again unless there is protest, which is never a good thing for anybody here.
I took these two pictures from roughly the same location, but about a year apart. 2018 was completely dry, 2019 is completely flooded. Although where I took the pictures is quite far away from the city of Basra, it does show the importance of water to the livelihood of local people.
Basra was once nicknamed “Venice of the East”. It was a prosperous and thriving city. People used to travel to Basra for holidays. Two biggest rivers in Iraq, Tigris and Euphrates, meet here to form the Shatt al-Arab. The city is penetrated by a complex network of canals and streams, vital for irrigation and other agricultural use (Wikipedia)
But Iraq’s great rivers are dying. You see, Tigris and Euphrates flow through Iraq, but they don’t have control over them. Both rivers begin in Turkey. In fact, over 80% of Iraq’s water comes from its neighboring countries. To make the matter worse, these countries have been keeping more and more water for themselves. This means Iraq is not getting enough water. Basra, located in the south of the country, bear the worst blunt of the water shortage. This, combined with crumbling infrastructure due to years of mismanagement, results in yearly water crisis and violent protests. Vox has made a great video about the water crisis in Basra which you can view below. I also wrote about my experience during the protest last year.
The road to recovery is long and unpredictable.
I really have no clue how they are going to fix the water crisis. What you see is not only because of Iraq’s neighboring countries, but also a result of systematic failure of the Iraqi government, political instability, and constant interference by regional and global powers to gain control over Iraq. Oil might be free flowing here, but the water is scarce and poisonous.
When I looked back at the two photos of kids playing in the field and in the water, they reminded me of the playful spirit of the youth. Perhaps this might be the only thing could revive Basra back to its former glory.