By Wassim Bassem, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Ali al-Jubouri, a farmer from the Babil countryside, patiently waits every year for the rainwater to evaporate from local natural salt lakes. He and his family then collect the salt left behind to sell to merchants.
Ali is among a group of poor farmers forced by now-arid lands to find makeshift opportunities to earn income and provide for their families. Many residents have left for the cities, while those who remain have resorted to harvesting salt, which brings in little money.
Um Ali, Jubouri’s wife, along with five other female family members including her daughters, wade into the stagnant water at dawn to begin collecting salt.
By noon, they manage to fill nearly seven bags, which they will sell for $1 a piece. When the work is done, Jubouri drives his old truck to the site to pick up the day’s collection.
Harvesting salt is seasonal work. The family waits through the scarce rains of winter in Babil’s al-Mahawil district, and then they wait some more, as the water evaporates from ponds and lakes in summer.
As Jubouri told Al-Monitor, “The high temperatures [of summer], reaching 50 degrees Celsius [122 degrees Fahrenheit], cause the water to evaporate rapidly in the lakes, leaving the salt behind to be easily harvested.” The family works for a few weeks each year collecting salt.
In Iraq, one finds salt ponds on the outskirts of cities, in rural areas and along the border of desert lands. In these areas, residents and Bedouin work in the salt water that remains after most of it has evaporated.