Burning Borderlands: Open-Source Monitoring of Conflict-caused Wildfires in Iraq

By Wim Zwijnenburg

Iraq is on fire. Since late June, media has reported on wildfires in northern parts of Iraqi Kurdistan among the border with Turkey, along the border with Iran in the northeast and in the southeast of Iraq at the Hawizeh marshes, bordering Iran. A hazardous cocktail of climate change-induced increased summer heat, water shortages, military shelling of various armed groups operating in these areas combined with random human errors and spontaneous outbreaks left the earth scorched. This blog will provide a short open-source based overview based on media reporting on various locations in Iraq combined with the use of satellite imagery provided by the European Space Agencies’ Sentinel-2, NASA’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) suite and commercial imagery provided with by Planet Labs.

NASA Worldview VIIRS Fires and thermal anomalies layer, northern Iraq, September 4, 2018

How armed conflict harms the environment

A country already plagued by armed conflict and terrorism, now entering a stage of reconstruction and reconciliation, Iraq is also dealing with scorching heat. It’s not just the rising temperatures that are affecting the lives and livelihoods of Iraqi communities, but a multitude of other factors figuratively and literally adding fuel to the fire.

Lack of snowfall this winter and the resulting reduced water flow into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from Turkey resulted in water shortages in Iraq. Mismanagement of water sources, hydro-politics due to dam construction and the war that damaged existing water infrastructure aggravated the situation, particularly in the south. Violent protests erupted in Basrah against lack of action from the government side to provide clean water and functioning infrastructure to the population.

At the same time, insurgent groups have been carrying out operations against Turkish and Iranian armed forces in the north and east of the country, or else have been under attack by these forces. …read more

From:: Bellingcat

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