In 2022/2023, the RSK Middle East team collaborated on two important projects with the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Ministry of Environment (MoEn) in Iraq.

The true extent of conflict related to legacy contaminated land in Iraq has yet to be determined; however, it has been estimated that approximately 2,400,000 hectares of ‘high-use’ land is now considered unusable due to impact from hydrocarbons and other chemicals. This legacy could have long-term impacts on nearby communities, which in many cases are reliant on natural resources to maintain their livelihoods.

Under a collaboration with the WBG and the European Space Agency, the MoEn received technical support for the preparation of an initial site inventory. This process involved a geographic information system (GIS)-driven exercise supported by collaboration with the MoEn whereby 76 environmental hotspots were identified. Of these, field visits were conducted at 68 locations, the remainder having been ruled out for safety considerations.

Following the identification of the environmental hotspots, RSK was commissioned by the WBG through the Iraq Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Fund (I3RF) to undertake environmental site assessment (ESA) across seven conflict-affected governorates in Iraq: Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninevah, Al Anbar, Babil and Salah Al-Din. The primary objective of the scope was to undertake soil, surface water and groundwater sampling at 68 environmental hotspots to determine both the nature and the indicative scale of the impact at each site. In addition, information on the surrounding area (land use, number of potentially affected persons, etc.) was also gathered. This information was then used to inform a conceptual site model (CSM), which in turn was used, in collaboration with the MoEn, to outline an indicative ranking for each site. This ranking provided the WBG and the MoEn with a prioritisation for management and/or remediation of each identified hotspot. Of the environmental hotspots assessed, five were ranked ‘very high’, 18 were ranked ‘high’, 24 were ranked ‘moderate’, 16 were ranked ‘moderate/low’, five were ranked ‘low’ and zero were ranked ‘very low’.

RSK worked closely with the MoEn throughout the scope of work, providing it with capacity building support (training workshops on field sampling and laboratory analysis) and supervision of its field teams in sample collection by a senior engineer.

Following the completion of the ESA, stakeholder consultations were undertaken by RSK on behalf of the MoEn and the WBG in March 2023. The consultations were held in five governorates: Baghdad, Al Anbar, Kirkuk, Ninevah and Salah Al-Din. Stakeholders were divided into two categories: civil society organisations (CSO), which included a number of groups representing areas such as the environment and human rights, and government representatives from the respective governorates and ministries, industry representatives and environmental directorates.

The purpose of the consultations was to present and discuss the findings of the ESA to stakeholders to provide a deeper understanding of the impacts of the environmental hotspots on the communities, to corroborate the level of pollution at various sites and to identify community priorities and needs for the remediation of identified hotspots.

Across the workshops held by RSK, stakeholders largely agreed with the priority rankings outlined in the ESA. Where there were disagreements, this was in favour of increasing the priority rankings of sites, e.g., from high to very high.

Key recommendations made by stakeholders during the workshops included:

  1. undertake assessments of additional contaminated sites identified at the workshops.
  2. work with CSOs to develop a programme of communication and awareness raising alongside remediation efforts, such as a social media platform.
  3. provide a way for communities to raise issues or grievances related to contaminated sites, such as enhancing the role of the existing Citizens Affairs Department in the MoEn.

 

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