Articles

Iraq's Implementation of Stockholm Convention

Adeela Shahin

Apr. 02, 2024
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Iraq's commitment to the Stockholm Convention involves addressing pollution challenges, and national plans for managing hazardous waste to protect human health and the environment.

Since June 6, 2016, Iraq has been a signatory to the Stockholm Convention, a commitment aimed at curbing the proliferation of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and ending their improper disposal.

The Stockholm Convention, an international environmental treaty established in 2001 and enforced in May 2004, targets the elimination or reduction of production and usage of POPs. These harmful chemical compounds persist in the environment for extended periods, posing threats to air, water, and soil.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prolonged exposure to POPs can disrupt immune and endocrine systems, impede nervous system development, and interfere with reproductive functions.

A recent study examining the correlation between climate change and POPs has revealed that the release, dispersion, and degradation of POPs are significantly influenced by environmental factors.

Consequently, the changing climate and its growing variability could impact the prevalence of these pollutants. Elevated temperatures exacerbate the exposure to POPs, amplifying their detrimental effects on both the environment and human health.

Notably, dioxins and furans, recognized as highly toxic compounds, are known to cause cancer in humans. Their global prominence heightened in the late 1990s following the discovery of contamination in chicken meat across various European nations.

POPs travel extensive distances from warmer climates and manifest in polar regions, encompassing both the North and South Poles. The Arctic, in particular, bears the brunt of this phenomenon, impacting nations like Scandinavia, Canada, and Russia.

Consequently, these countries have contributed to the funding of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, aimed at curtailing the influx of these pollutants originating from and traversing into other regions.

The convention has prohibited 26 substances, mandating nations to either safely dispose of these pollutants or seek viable alternatives.

Water and soil pollution in Iraq have surged, particularly in the aftermath of wars that inflicted severe damage on its infrastructure and other essential facilities.

Moreover, the proliferation of industrial and medical waste, coupled with insufficient awareness regarding the hazards posed by these pollutants, has exacerbated the situation, resulting in adverse effects on humans and ecosystems alike.

Compounding these challenges is Baghdad, which, despite being one of Iraq's smallest provinces in terms of area, contends with severe pollution issues. With a burgeoning population nearing nine million people, Baghdad accommodates numerous factories, industrial operations, and commercial activities, some of which are situated amidst residential neighborhoods.

According to a comprehensive report released by the World Bank in 2024, the cumulative losses and damages suffered by Iraq's oil, agricultural, and industrial sectors due to successive wars are estimated at approximately 3.5 trillion Iraqi dinars, equivalent to 3 billion dollars.

Furthermore, 47 percent of the country’s natural forest areas have been decimated, and 2.4 million hectares of arable land have been contaminated with mines, rendering them unusable.

This underscores the urgent need for a national initiative aimed at addressing polluted sites across the country within a five-year timeframe, with an estimated budget of $422 million.

Iraq is party to several international agreements concerning POPs. One of these global agreements, endorsed by over 196 countries worldwide, including 122 Arabic-speaking nations, is the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, adopted and signed in 1992.

Another significant accord is the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, established in 2004, aiming to prohibit and phase out the production, import, and export of these chemical substances while reducing their usage. Additionally, the Rotterdam Convention, which restricts certain hazardous pesticides and chemicals in international trade, was further developed and ratified in 2004.

Environmental expert Adel Al-Mukhtar contends that "diseases and health issues stemming from water, air, or soil pollution arise from inadequate management of chemicals and chemical waste. Developing a comprehensive waste management strategy, encompassing various Persistent Organic Pollutants, is crucial.”

“Additionally, the eagerness to join international agreements often precedes the actual capabilities needed for enforcement. Hence, there's a pressing need to bolster Iraq's human, material, and technical capacities to fulfill its obligations under these agreements and meet the membership requirements,” he added.

Building on this, he further elaborated that "Iraq holds the unenviable position of being the second-largest contributor to global environmental pollution, trailing only Russia, with an annual burning of approximately 18 billion cubic meters of gas. Moreover, river waters suffer from catastrophic pollution caused by the diversion of sewage, medical, and industrial waste into their channels. Drought worsens the situation, heightening health, environmental, and agricultural risks. Thus, there's an imperative to devise a comprehensive strategy to tackle the alarming levels of environmental pollution, amidst mounting criticism over delays in implementing remedial measures."

Maha Rashid Fuleih, the head of the chemistry department at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Baghdad, asserted that "persistent organic pollutants pose a significant threat to both animals and humans, as even minimal exposure to these toxins can result in cancer. While chemicals play a vital economic role and contribute to enhancing living standards and human welfare, it's crucial to acknowledge the detrimental impact of these substances on human health and the environment."

"Persistent organic pollutants are exceptionally perilous, particularly as they find widespread use across various industries, including furniture and electrical appliances. The primary objective of the Stockholm Convention is to seek alternatives to these substances. In terms of their impact on human health, the repercussions are manifold,” she elaborated. “These pollutants cannot be metabolized or eliminated; instead, they dissolve in fat and accumulate readily in bodily tissues at concentrations exceeding those in the surrounding environment. In essence, they are chemicals that inflict harm on both humans and the environment, posing a grave threat to the existence of living organisms."

According to her, the primary origins of these pollutants stem from insecticides like DDT and chlordane, along with industrial chemicals. Notably, dioxins, which result from the incineration of medical and plastic waste at low temperatures, play a significant role. Comprising 70 chemical compounds, they rank among the foremost Persistent Organic Pollutants due to their potent capacity to induce toxicity in the body. They assail the body's genes and disrupt its physiological functions.

When queried about the industrial applications of Persistent Organic Pollutants, Fuleih said that "these substances find their way into the production of dyes, explosives, pesticides, textiles, plastics, rubber, and electrical appliances. Additionally, they're employed in construction and renovation efforts to deter termite infestations, safeguard wood, and treat furniture waste. What was once mere waste has now transformed into hazardous chemical waste owing to its chemical composition."

She further explained, "Dioxins are also produced when waste is incinerated at substandard temperatures, causing the deposition of dioxins on soil or plants consumed by animals, thus infiltrating the food chain. Often, dioxin contamination arises from tainted animal feed."

National implementation plan

The Stockholm Convention mandates parties to devise national strategies aimed at curtailing the release of POPs into the environment through a tailored national implementation plan.

This initial stride is pivotal for Iraq in realizing the objectives outlined in the convention, encompassing ongoing initiatives and future endeavors for a comprehensive national management approach to chemical and hazardous waste.

It is in line with both the overarching global Sustainable Development Goals agenda and the National Implementation Plan. The latter encompasses provisions for addressing the 30 listed Persistent Organic Pollutants up to 2019, spearheaded through collaborative efforts with the United Nations Environment Programme and backed by financial assistance from the Global Environment Facility.

According to a booklet issued by the Stockholm Convention Secretariat in 2011, as of March 1st, 128 out of 178 parties had formulated and presented their national implementation plans. The Stockholm Convention mandates the progressive cessation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) usage by 2025 and the environmentally responsible handling of PCB waste by 2028.

As of February 2011, 119 parties, including 25 from developed nations, had reported on their dioxins and furans emissions inventorying efforts through their respective national implementation plans and reports.

The Iraqi Ministry of Environment is actively advancing to spearhead the plan's execution within a collaborative framework involving various sectors and agencies.

This initiative encompasses a sequence of inventory activities, succeeded by the disposal of Persistent Organic Pollutants stocks and waste across the country. The involvement of all stakeholders, including the private and industrial sectors, is integral to this endeavor.

Luay al-Mukhtar, the Director of the Chemicals Department at the Ministry of Environment, stated that “the ministry has initiated the formulation of the national plan for the Stockholm Convention, a requisite following the state's accession to the convention. All participating states must devise a national plan to assess the prevailing scenario within the country, conducting an inventory of Persistent Organic Pollutants to ascertain their volume and origins across various sectors. This entails proposing strategies to mitigate and manage Persistent Organic Pollutants in collaboration with pertinent authorities to safeguard human health and the environment, ensuring a pollution-free milieu."

"Iraq finalized its inaugural national implementation plan in 2023, incorporating evaluations of the existing physical, institutional, and legislative framework, alongside outcomes from the inventorying of Persistent Organic Pollutants, forming the bedrock for action strategies,” he added. “It is imperative to address and responsibly dispose of waste containing Persistent Organic Pollutants and other chemicals to avert their buildup in the environment."

In December 2023, the Ministry of Environment convened a meeting to deliberate on the Integrated Management Project for Persistent Organic Pollutants and Contaminated Sites.

Representatives from various ministries, including Electricity, Finance, Agriculture, Industry, and Minerals, along with delegates from the United Nations Development Programme, a representative from the Kurdistan Regional Government, and World Bank representatives in Iraq, were in attendance.

This project, a significant endeavor for Iraq, is financed by international funds for the nation's welfare and overseen by the World Bank, with a total investment of $18.5 million.

The Ministry of Environment has committed to integrating forthcoming activities stipulated by the Stockholm Convention into ongoing initiatives aimed at regulating chemical emissions and pollutants within Iraq's environment.

This alignment with rigorous international standards, as outlined in the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), will be spearheaded by the Chemicals Management Department, the Stockholm Convention Unit, and the National Focal Point, all operating under the Ministry's oversight. Collaboration will persist with governmental and non-governmental entities, academia, technical specialists, as well as civil society and citizens to realize the objectives of reducing Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Iraq's current agenda encompasses responses to 30 of the Persistent Organic Pollutants delineated in the Stockholm Convention.

Implementation of Iraq's commitments to the Stockholm Convention

The primary aim of the Stockholm Convention is to implement the National Implementation Plan, as mandated by Article 7, Paragraph 1 of the Convention.

This plan is designed to align with environmental objectives and pollution mitigation efforts outlined in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, with the overarching goal of enhancing the quality of life for all citizens and fostering sustainable development within the industrial sector.

As such, the action plans delineated in the National Implementation Plan must be harmonized with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Iraq is currently in the process of implementing the National Implementation Plan, which entails conducting a comprehensive inventory of these pollutants throughout the country to identify disposal methods and potential alternatives.

It is crucial to assess the levels of organic pollutants present in the air, water, human blood, and breast milk to gauge their impact on future generations. Results from the inventory of persistent organic pollutants indicate that Iraq is devoid of any sources of pesticides containing persistent organic pollutants and hexachlorobutadiene.

However, sources of polychlorinated biphenyls, including oils, electrical and electronic equipment (such as transformers and capacitors), as well as other contaminated sites, have been identified.

Mukhtar elaborates that “the effective execution of the Stockholm Convention in Iraq requires the integration of the international strategic approach to chemical management and the Basel Convention. Key provisions will be incorporated into the institutional and regulatory frameworks for chemical management to mitigate the risks posed by persistent organic pollutants and other highly hazardous pesticides. A management plan aligned with international treaties and World Health Organization recommendations will be implemented, all of which demand the presence of capable institutions for program execution alongside ongoing evaluation."

"This underscores the significance of the Integrated Persistent Organic Pollutants Management Project, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility. Alongside capacity building, the project aims to enhance and refurbish laboratories within the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture, including those in the Kurdistan Region, to assess and analyze such pollutants through comprehensive surveys bolstered by laboratory testing,” he added. “It encompasses the collection and disposal of 1000 tons of persistent organic pesticides, empty pesticide containers, and damaged pesticides, as well as 3000 tons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were previously used as cooling oils for various electrical transformers."

Enhancing the responsible management of chemicals and hazardous materials, including persistent organic pollutants, is crucial for advancing sustainable development objectives.

The effective enforcement of the Stockholm Convention in Iraq hinges on ensuring that all stakeholders, including policymakers, industry representatives, the scientific community, civil society, and the public, have access to accurate information to inform decisions aimed at minimizing risks to human health and the environment.

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Author Adeela Shahin

Adeela Shahin is an Iraqi Environmental Journalist

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