Learning from each other, environmental activists in Duhok and Garmian fight wildfires

24-07-2022 03:23
Part of the forests of Bamo mountain was burned and damaged by the fire.

PEREGRAF- Surkew Mohammed, Farman Sadiq

Environmentalists from different parts of the Kurdistan Region are working together to fight the common threat of wildfires. These simple interactions are having a big effect by increasing solidarity and sharing resources.

Local forests and grasslands are at high risk of catching fire, particularly during summer. High temperatures, drought, low rainfall, and climate change leave many areas as dry as kindling.

Tourists and shepherds can inadvertently start fires through negligence. Others intentionally start blazes to clear land. Turkish and Iranian cross-border airstrikes and bombardments spark large blazes in the mountains under the pretext of attacking Kurdish opposition groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Thousands of acres of forests and grasslands in the Region are in danger of being destroyed, including decades-old trees. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) largely lacks the capacity to institute fire mitigation measures and deploy firefighters to respond to blazes when they occur.

In this context, Duhok-based environmental activist Sozan Fahmi wanted to do more to protect vulnerable areas.

At an environmental conference, she heard from an activist from Garmian named Soran Hama Ali that he lacked funding to buy a device called a firefighting blower, which is useful in fighting wildfires.

Returning to Duhok, she shared what she had learned with her friends, showing them photos and videos of how Ali and his wife were trying protect habitats for wild animals and birds in Garmian.

"My friends are environmentally friendly and love animals. They own dogs and cats," she said. "During our meeting, we talked about the environment and animals, and I showed them pictures and videos of Kak Soran's Instagram, which he presented at the Erbil seminar."

She said that her friends quickly decided to launch a fundraiser for Ali to buy a firefighting blower, which is a powerful gasoline-powered fan weighing about 11 kilograms. It works best for fighting grassfires, which are common in the Kurdistan Region.

"We've raised $1,000," Fahmi added proudly.

Rand Mohammed, a young activist, and friend of Fahmi participated in the fundraiser.

"When Fahmi talked to us about the person who showed pictures and videos of his work, it affected us," he said.

Mohammed spent time in Garmian as a child and was excited to work with others to protect the environment there.

"Being outside of that area is no issue for us. We know that people are doing a good job and serve wherever they are. So, we are glad to help," he said.

A simple but effective device

Firefighting blowers are available for sale in the Kurdistan Region and environmental organizations have been using them for years.

In Penjwen, a local environmental group has been using this device, called a grkp in Kurdish, for years to control fires in the district.

Ali, who lives near Bamo Mountain in Garmian, has used the money raised by the activists in Duhok to buy two of the devices.

Environmental activists in the Maidan district are busy assembling one of the devices

"There are fires in the forests of Bamo Mountain several times a year. I can say that 30 percent of the trees are completely burned and another part has been damaged. In some places, where there had been twenty trees, only four are left. So, this device is important," Ali said.

"It is positive for activists and forest police in all parts of Kurdistan to have [the blowers] because they are a very good and effective tool for extinguishing fires," he added.

Ali himself had learned about firefighting blowers from other environmental activists by watching videos on social media of the Mlakawa environmental group using it to fight fires.

Rebwar Kamal, head of the Mlakawa Organization, said that "the device does the work of 20 people to extinguish a fire."

His group has three of the blowers, which were provided by charities, but wants more in order to respond to the growing number of fires across the Kurdistan Region.

"Sometimes, there have been 30 people involved in extinguishing a fire. There have been fires that lasted for two nights and two days, where we stayed in the mountains to extinguish them. We have worked 24 hours a day to prevent it from spreading," Kamal said.

"Without these devices, it is very difficult to extinguish the fires because cars cannot enter the fire zones [to carry heavier machinery] and there are no other devices available to the environmental police and activists," he added.

Sharing knowledge, experience, and resources is at the heart of their efforts.

On July 6, the Mlakawa organization held training in Garmian’s Maidan district, where they trained local activists and members of the Darbandikhan Forest Police on how to use firefighting blowers and other techniques for controlling fires.

Mlakawa organization's training for Garmian environmental activists about using the device.

Drought and politics

Every summer in the Kurdistan Region is hot and dry and carries the risk of fire, but this year threatens to be particularly challenging because of an ongoing drought.

According to Forest Police statistics, there were 61 fire incidents in the Kurdistan Region in 2021. At least 1,853 trees were cut down and another 1,321 burned, reducing local forest cover and increasing fire risk.

"Over the past five decades, 50 percent of the Kurdistan Region’s forests have been destroyed for different reasons," Major Fuad Ahmed Zrari, director of media for the KRG’s Forest and Environmental Police told Peregraf.

Despite the efforts of the KRG, the Forest Police, and activists, fighting fires is an enormous task. Often, they occur in remote areas with bad roads that make it difficult to bring in firefighters and machinery.

Korsh Ararat, a university lecturer, and environmentalist believes that the solution lies in making the issue one of public concern, addressed at the local level.

"It is a very good start that activists are cooperating on environmental issues," Ararat said, adding that he was aware of Fahmi’s Duhok fundraiser for Ali in Garmian.

"The environment is outside ideology and politics. People are tired of the parties. Environmental issues can be the beginning of the unification of Kurdistan's regions, which have been created by politics and cultural and geographical separation," he said.

"The cooperation of Duhok activists with Garmian environmentalists is a very good and important step."

Ali is putting his blowers to good use, along with two others owned by the Maidan district Forest Police and the Sartaka village council.

Burning a part of the forests of Bamo mountain

Environmental activists in Garmian and Penjwen say they need more of the devices, which can also be used in other parts of the Kurdistan Region.

"We need more devices and we ask for help from those who are able," Kamal said.