My Story: Environmental Injustice in Iraq

Batoul Al-Sadi

Date: 06/29/2022

Hey there, my name is Batoul! I’m the new Environmental Justice Organizer for Let’s Green CA! and wanted to take a moment to share with you a little more about myself, because my passion for this work is inspired by my family.

My story reaches from the beaches of the Pacific Northwest to the Tigris River running through Baghdad, Iraq. My father moved to the United States when he was 18, and my parents made a life for themselves in the Seattle area. I grew up exploring tide pools and investigating marine ecology during springtime low tides in Washington. Actually, I navigated most of my academic career believing I wanted to be an oceanographer!

Tidepools like these fascinated me as a kid!

As I grew up, I began to hear my family back home in Iraq talk about changes to their environment. And as I became older, passing comments here and there became consistent discussions about the extreme heat they endured during the days and nights. (I’m talking about high temperatures of 110 to 120℉.) These family anecdotes were accompanied by the knowledge that they experienced minimal relief from the heat: Iraqis get sporadic electrical service to power fans (very few have access to air conditioning), and clean drinking water is hard to come by.

This is the Tigris river that runs through Baghdad, Iraq, near where my family lives.

Throughout the years, I began consciously identifying how my background has shaped my own relationship with the environment, and how my family’s experiences with climate change illustrate a disturbing pattern seen all over the world: frontline communities who face the brunt of the climate crisis are those who contribute the least, if at all, to it. That simple fact motivates my work every day.

The challenges my family and their community members in Iraq face go beyond extreme heat. Their communities are burdened with contaminated soil, collapsed sanitation, water, and energy systems, extremely poor air and water quality, and a crumbled waste management system, just to name a few. These impacts are the combined forces of climate change and the lasting ecological ramifications of the 2003 U.S. invasion. My ancestors’ medjool date farm was unable to recover due to the effects of the war on the agricultural landscape, combined with longer drought seasons and extreme weather patterns. The farm simply doesn’t produce anymore. Medjool dates are a vital piece of our cultural history and religion, making the loss all the more tragic.

Dates are an important part of Iraqi culture.

Today, sandstorms devastate the region and shut down cities across the country. There’s not much you can do during a sandstorm: when they hit, you have to stay inside for a day or two, waiting for the event to end and the clean up to begin. Since April of this year, Iraq has experienced at least eight major sandstorm events, and climate experts predict more are on the way.

One storm in April left one individual dead, and 5,000 people seeking treatment for respiratory challenges. Not only do these storms result in very poor air quality and serious health issues, but they are so intense that they impact visibility, forcing cities and airports to shut down for several days until the storms subside. The sand will blanket people’s skin and clothes, and infiltrate its way into homes and businesses, getting into food and drinking water. It will even make its way into machinery and electrical systems, at times permanently damaging them. These storms impact people’s ability to go to school, work, gather and see friends and family, attend religious services, or simply step outside their homes to take a breath of air. Hearing my family talk about how these storms impact their life in such a way that it impairs their ability to live their day-to-day lives underscores the increasing severity of the climate crisis.

As I navigate my life here in the U.S., I cannot help but keep my relatives at the forefront of my mind. Understanding that their experiences are a result of the stress of war on the land and country, confounded by the growing consequences of climate change, has instilled in me a critical consideration for the structural and systemic factors which both produce and exacerbate environmental injustice. The innumerable consequences of climate change are invasive and violent; contributing to cultural erasure, and attacks on individuals’ and communities' economic, social, mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. As these impacts continue to plague communities across the globe in vast, increasingly more intrusive ways, it is imperative to consider how inherently personal environmental harm can be. Critical to this is working alongside those most, and disproportionately impacted by it in order to effectively address these impacts, and center their experiences and expertise when developing solutions.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my story and look forward to working with each and every one of you to correct long-standing injustices. Climate action is a moral imperative, and we have the power to make a difference.

That's me! I still love the beach.

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