Trees can help conserve soil and water and they act as carbon sinks, as well as providing shade. The figure of 16 million more trees is thought to be the minimum needed in Basra, in order to have any impact on the heat here.
“Our department supports this campaign to increase green areas,” adds Ahmed Jassim Hanoun, director of the department for the protection of the environment at Basra’s Ministry of the Environment. “Trees will also be used as windbreaks because the barren land suffers from erosion,” he noted.
His ministry suggests that almost three-quarters of the land in central and southern Iraq is suffering the effects of desertification. This is due not only to the mismanagement of the land and the inadequacy of traditional irrigation but also to ongoing drought and climate change.
First up, trees are going to be planted around all Basra’s schools, health institutions and government buildings. Then parks, streets and private residences will be planted. Finally, the plan is to establish green belts near oil fields and other sites where there is enough water – these could eventually become recreational areas, the tree-planters say.
The trees themselves have been carefully chosen for their abilities to survive in harsh environments, says Qassim al-Mashat, a member of the tree-planting campaign. The plants have also been chosen because they grow quickly.
A lot of different groups have been coming forward to join in the campaign and Zeina al-Tamimi, a volunteer, wanted to emphasise that the tree planters had no specific political affiliation. They had come together out of concern about climate change and rising temperatures as well as worries about pollution caused by the oil industry, unplanned construction and the levelling of palm tree forests.