Iraq’s increasing temperatures and prolonged drought serve as a “wake-up call” for the world, said United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk in Baghdad on Wednesday.
Turk’s comments to AFP came during a visit to Iraq, a country the UN identifies as one of the five most affected globally by some impacts of climate change.
Iraq is undergoing its fourth consecutive summer of drought, with temperatures in areas including the capital, Baghdad, and the far south reaching around 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Rising temperatures plus the drought, and the fact that the loss of diversity is a reality, is a wake-up call for Iraq and for the world,” Turk said.
“When we look into the situation of these communities, we look into our future,” he added.
“The era of global boiling has come and here we can live it and see it on a daily basis,” Turk stated at the end of his four-day visit, echoing comments made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month.
Guterres declared, “The era of global warming has ended. The era of global boiling has arrived.” He called for immediate and bold action after scientists determined July was on course to become the hottest month in recorded history.
Besides diminishing rainfall and climbing temperatures, Iraqi authorities claim that dam construction upstream by Turkey and Iran has affected the water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers through Iraq.
In Iraq’s far south, high salinity has damaged fishing in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the Tigris and Euphrates converge before emptying into the Gulf.
During his visit to the south, Turk told a news conference that community leaders and others showed him “pictures of the lush date palm trees that — just 30 years ago — lined parts of the now dried-up Shatt al-Arab waterway.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani has pledged that combating climate change will be a priority, but activists say little has been accomplished.
Turk disclosed to the news conference there were reports “of violence, intimidation and death threats against environmental activists” in Iraq.
One such activist, engineer Jassim al-Assadi of Nature Iraq, the nation’s leading conservation group, was abducted for two weeks in February and held by armed men.