Monday, July 13, 2009

Baghdad Fanta Festival

Before my trip back to Baghdad, I received an email from a friend who wrote to me that if I would be lucky enough to catch that week’s Fanta Festival, and I thought that probably Fanta Company – the fizzy, fruit flavored soda drink, has had a marketing campaign in the capital to celebrate the signing of the Air Cargo Handling contract with the Sharjah-based RUS Aviation :))

Upon my landing at the airport I did not see any signs of such festivities apart from the terrifying heat wave that struck my face when I exited the airport door. Two days after my arrival, I woke up that morning and looked out of the window, and there it was, the Baghdad Fanta Festival at full swing. A glowing red-orange color was filling the entire place around my house. When I went out to investigate what the hell it was I was swarmed with little tiny particles of dust or sand or what ever the hell it was! The heat at 8 am!, however, added to that agonizing feeling. It was sickening. That day the Fanta festival lasted through out the night. The next day when I called my friend who wrote me that email, he told me that I was unlucky, the Fanta festival normally lasts 2-3 days and he reassured me that I will catch the next week’s festivities!!

In the past we were quite used to the fact that Baghdad would witness maximum 2 nos. sand storm a year and after the war of Kuwait its frequency increased up to 4-5 times, but nothing like this red-orange stuff. However, since 2004 the sand storms are being so recurrent that they have commenced to sweep the land every month and now it is even becoming a weekly phenomenal. Last month, the newspapers wrote about them and the government explained that these sands are partly due to the huge amount of reconstruction sites that are taking place in the cities!! So I took the government’s response to the test and I called an environmental engineer – who was a staunch opponent of the Baath party, and is currently a professor at a university in Baghdad, to get his views about the matter. When I told him about Al Maliki’s reasons behind those storms he said that Al Maliki is as pathetic as the invaders forces. He said that for quite sometimes now, the skies are filled with small red dust that penetrates the leaf pores and kill the planting orchards that have remained in our country- like the cypress and eucalyptus trees. This dust will hinder these trees and other vegetations to metabolize as the leaves become covered with a layer of sticky red dust. He said that the environment of Iraq has seen series of setbacks since the draining of the marshes in the eighties of the last century, then grinding the desert environment with military tanks and heavy machineries as well as the radioactive dust generated from the use of the uranium in 1991. He added that after the U.S. invasion in 2003, the destruction of the geographical nature of Iraq, and specifically southern Iraq were completed on top of the early elimination of thousands of palm trees in the southern Iraqi city of Basra during the Iran-Iraq War, in order to facilitate military operations. The Iraqi environment were turned into soft terrain to not withstand the storm when the wind gains speed to perpetuate particles of red mud (not sand) of heavy density, but small-scale, to spread over long-distance from the south to the north of Iraq, and on its path it kills trees and plants, pollute the air, endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at risk of asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. He says if we take air samples to test them at a laboratory we will see that the city is exposed to huge amount of red dust, and by analyzing those dust components the world will know the truth about the contaminated air we breathe in Iraq.

He finally adds that to make matters even worse Iraq is facing an unprecedented drought since five years now as the levels of both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have reached the lowest recorded because of the giant dam projects in upstream countries.

When I heard that, I remembered on my last trip overseas, I met a Brit who proudly told me that he was MBE holder, and I thought he meant MBA, however, he corrected me by emphasizing MBE, which stands for Member of the British Empire - an honored badge given by the queen of England, a few steps from the comfort of her chair, to all those who served in south of Iraq during this war, for more than 5 years… And I thought no wonder why the British Empire is left to dust!!!!

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