26 Mar 2018 Story Disasters & conflicts

Rising from the rubble: Iraq’s Mosul takes steps to deal with war debris

“It is a splendid city, beautifully built; the climate is pleasant, the water healthy,” the 10th-Century Muslim geographer al-Muqqadasi once described the Iraqi city of Mosul.

In July 2017 the city was liberated from the stranglehold of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after several months of intense fighting.

The end of hostilities left the city, already devastated by ISIL’s wanton killings, grappling with debris from widespread destruction of infrastructure by rival forces.

Consequently, residents of this longstanding regional commercial hub, and the Government of Iraq, are working tirelessly to clean-up their city and help the hundreds of thousands of people who fled their homes to return and start-up their lives and businesses anew.

Al-Nineveh Street, the commercial centre of Mosul’s Old City, lies in complete ruin. Credit: UN Environment

The city is estimated to have had a pre-conflict population of 1.4 million people and with the high-level of infrastructure destruction, there is great concern over how to deal with the colossal volumes of debris created by the conflict which is highly contaminated with unexploded ordnance, booby-traps and potentially other hazardous materials.

The speedy removal of the rubble is key to ensuring that Mosul residents can return to the city and rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

“Citizens need to see tangible results and that progress is being made on the ground in cleaning and opening up the city,“ said the Director of Mosul Municipality, Abdel Satar Al-Habbow.

Immediately following the liberation of the city in July 2017, UN Environment, UN-Habitat, Mosul Municipality and specialized debris management experts from the Disaster Waste Recovery and Urban Resilience Platform, started to assess the volumes and distribution of the rubble.

Destruction of the city’s rich cultural heritage has left the city bereft of its iconic landmarks, including the Grand Mosque of al-Nouri and its famous leaning minaret. Credit: UN Environment

Subsequently, through the use of satellite image analysis and field surveys, they estimated that the city has around eight million tons of conflict debris which is equivalent to three times the Great Pyramid of Giza.

About 75 per cent of the debris is on the right bank of the Tigris River in western Mosul. The rest is spread out over the eastern part of the city which suffered significantly less intensive fighting.

“Almost nine months since the liberation of Mosul, we think the time is now ripe to plan debris removal in a structured manner to ensure that it is done correctly. This not only makes economic sense. It is also important as unplanned disposal of debris can create serious health and environmental risks and burdensome economic liabilities in the future,” said UN Environment Programme Manager Hassan Partow at the opening of a two-day workshop in Mosul University co-hosted by UN Environment and UN Habitat on 19-20 March 2018.

Mosul municipality workers clear the rubble from the streets with support from the UN Development Programme’s stabilization facility. Credit: UN Environment

The workshop brought together over 50 experts from key government departments implementing debris removal efforts. Experts on demining and explosives, historic buildings, legal matters, the environment, and representatives from local communities, academic institutions and the private sector were also present.

UN agencies including the UN Mine Action Service, International Organization for Migration, UNESCO and international partners such as GIZ, who are supporting the government’s efforts to reconstruct the city, also participated.

While the city’s huge amount of rubble may be viewed in some quarters as a problem, it also offers an opportunity to generate alternative livelihoods through recycling and reuse of the material.

However, debris is currently disposed of in a spontaneous and ad-hoc manner which means that this valuable recycling potential is being lost.

“We welcome the opportunity to have demonstration projects on debris recycling to better understand the potential of this approach which is so far unknown in Iraq,“ said Dr Suhaib Al-Darzi, head of the University of Mosul’s Engineering Consulting Bureau.

“Indeed, recycling, can offer important livelihood opportunities for the thousands of returnees who are struggling to survive,“ he added.

Participants at the workshop agreed on the need for a city-wide debris management master plan whose development would be led by Mosul Municipality in consultation with the key stakeholders. The plan will enable environmentally-sensitive disposal and recycling of debris which is key to ensuring that residents can return to the city and rebuild their homes and livelihoods in a sustainable manner.

Learn more about UN Environment’s work the environmental causes and consequences of disasters and conflicts.

Contact Oli Brown at [email protected] or Hassan Partow [email protected]