A municipal worker extinguishes a fire inside the garbage at a rubbish dump in Baghdad
A municipal worker extinguishes a fire inside the garbage at a rubbish dump in Baghdad, Iraq, May 30, 2019.

BAGHDAD - As if life was not bad enough for Adnan Kadhim - he lives in a slum where municipal authorities dump Baghdad's rubbish - now someone is setting the waste on fire, making his children sick.

As the United Nations marks World Environment Day on Wednesday, Iraq is suffering a pollution crisis, with trash piling up across the country and thick clouds of smoke produced by inefficient factories hovering above Baghdad.

"The dirt, our children are sick, our families are sick. My daughter has asthma, and I had to take my family to the hospital last night. We had to go at 2 am to give her oxygen. What have we done wrong to deserve this?" asks the 48-year-old, with mountains of rubbish behind him.

No one in his unplanned neighborhood within Baghdad's southeastern Zaafaraniya district knows who is setting the rubbish on fire, and their complaints to government and municipal authorities have fallen on deaf ears because they are technically not supposed to be living in the area.

A municipal worker drives a shovel machine to extinguish a fire inside the garbage at a rubbish dump in Baghdad, Iraq.

​​"For about a week or ten days now we haven't been able to sleep or work. We just sitting around because of this smoke, said Jabbar, a builder.

"Every day, it starts at sunset and doesn't stop until the morning. You can see the tractors (shoveling trash) in front of you. We are being destroyed. We implored the government, and no one did anything, we went to the municipality and still nothing," he added.

Officials say Iraq suffers from the lack of a formal waste management system, but that they are working on introducing one which they hope will alleviate the country's numerous environmental hazards which also include pollution from oil production - Iraq is OPEC's second-largest producer of crude oil - and other industries.

"I am sorry to say there are no hygienic official landfills. All what we have are unorganized areas for waste collection," said Deputy Environment Minister Jassim Humadi. "We are working hard today to issue legislation establishing the National Center for Waste Management."

Increasing pollution rates and other "environmental challenges" could be linked to rising rates of chronic diseases such as cancer and respiratory issues, as well as birth deformities, he said.

Iraq is working with the international bodies on a plan to help it clean up, he added.

Change is Costly

Business owners say they are doing what they can to operate in a more environmentally-friendly manner but that it is too costly. The government needs to help them do so, they argue.

A general view of brick factories as smoke rises from the stacks in the town of Nahrawan in Baghdad, Iraq, June 3, 2019.

​​At a brick factory in Nahrawan, east Baghdad, ovens running on crude oil are releasing thick smoke, making it hard to breath, or see anything.

"Crude oil, if burned in an incorrect way, the way we burn it, of course has emissions. The new ovens which we are upgrading to will reduce these emissions by 60 percent, but that should not be the ceiling of our ambitions," says Ali Rabeiy, the factory owner.

More environmentally-friendly ovens can fashion bricks and produce only 5 percent of the current harmful emissions, and some even produce none, he said, but they cost anywhere between 4 and 6 billion Iraqi dinars ($3.2-4.8 million), which is not financially feasible for a business like his.

($1 = 1,186.4300 Iraqi dinars)