HotSpots H2O, September 10: Deadly Protests in Iraq’s Oil Hub Driven by Polluted Water, Government Neglect

The Rundown

Protests over power outages, chronic unemployment, Iranian influence in domestic politics, and the city’s deteriorating water system escalated dangerously last week in Basra, the country’s economic capital. Demonstrators, some taking part in protests since July, attacked government offices, shut down Basra’s port, torched the Iranian consulate, and fired rockets at the city’s airport. At least 15 people have been killed in clashes with security forces.

In recent months, polluted water in Basra has sickened thousands. Many water sources have run dry in the city, which once enjoyed bountiful freshwater. The remaining water has been contaminated by pollution and rising sea levels. Angry at the deterioration, residents have uploaded videos to social media showing brown water flowing from home faucets.

“There are many poisoning cases. My own family members have been affected, and when I took them to the hospital, I was surprised to see so many other poisoning cases because of water.” — A resident of Basra, speaking about the recent increase in water-related illnesses such as diarrhea. Residents say government corruption and neglect has played a major role in the deterioration of Iraq’s water supply and infrastructure.

By The Numbers

2 million Population of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city.

15+ Death toll from the past week of protests in Basra.

50°C (122°F) Average summer temperatures in Basra. The sweltering heat intensified the desperation of water and power shortages.

70 percent Proportion of Iraq’s proven oil reserves that are located in Basra province. Based on some estimates, oil produced in the area surrounding Basra accounts for up to 4 percent of global production.

2 Employees who were held hostage by protestors at a water treatment facility northwest of Basra on Friday. The employees were released after about an hour. The water treatment facility services the West Qurna 2 oilfield.

On The Radar

Basra imposed a curfew over the weekend, and calm has tentatively returned to the city. Local activists said they suspended the protests due to death threats from militia linked to Iran. The activists said that demonstrations will soon resume, however, and continue until demands are met.

Resources and Further Reading

In context reporting from Circle of Blue: HotSpots H2O, July 16: War, Drought, and Upstream Dams Hinder Water Access in Iraq

Angered Protesters In Basra Torch Iranian Consulate (NPR)
Calm Returns to Iraq’s Basra after Week of Violent Protests (VOA)
Iraq protesters free hostages at West Qurna water treatment plant (Reuters)
Iraqi protest against unsafe water in Basra (Al Jazeera)
Iraqi protesters set fire to Iranian consulate in Basra (Al Jazeera)
There’s more at stake in the Basra protests than dirty water and oil (CNN)

Kayla Ritter is a recent graduate of Michigan State University, where she studied International Relations and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She is currently based in Manton, Michigan. Kayla enjoys running, writing, and traveling. Contact Kayla Ritter

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