Population-Environment Dynamics in Iraqi Kurdistan – A Policy Perspective

I made a small and rather simple poster for the environmental science forum meeting about communicating science to policymakers and society, but unfortunately climate variations forced me to leave early to catch the last train before the storm would reach strengths that would prevent any kind of travel in southern Sweden. So instead I decided to present it here.

The purpose of this meeting was to discuss ways to reach out with our research to the public and to policy makers, to try and bridge the gap between what scientists find out and what policymakers and people in general base their decisions on. We were instructed to bring a poster where we presented our research from a policy perspective. There are four parts to understanding the population-environment dynamics in Iraqi Kurdistan and their relevance for policy making.

Poster for Environmental Science Forum

The first part introduces the study area: the Duhok Governorate in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is important to know that Duhok has both semi-arid and mountainous climate. The mountains in the northeast receive fairly large amounts of rainfall (due to orographic heaving), while the plains in the southwest are drier. The Duhok Governorate is one of the three provinces that make up the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a semi-autonomous area run by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This government has been running the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since 1991, and Kurdistan is considered a safe haven in a country beset with violence and instability. The stability in Kurdistan, together with oil revenues, have led to a rapid economic development and increased foreign investments. Cities are growing and Kurdistan is often portrayed in the media as a success story. The last important thing to know about this area is the fact that Kurdistan relies mainly on food imports from surrounding countries and therefore has an underdeveloped agricultural sector. The KRG, however, has plans to develop the agricultural sector and attain food security in the area.

The second part of this poster draws our attention to the future challenges of this region, ones that are faced by the world at large: climate change, urban population growth, and sustainable development. These challenges are all tied to the challenge of food security.

This background knowledge allows us to see what role this research project can have in solving these problems.

In the third part of the poster, my research project is introduced. Within the project, I look at migration patterns and trends that can be considered indicators of socio-economic imbalances. By that I mean that if many people are migrating from certain areas, we can view these areas as ”hotspots” that we can look deeper into. Why are so many people leaving these areas? And where are they going? What happens to the areas that have been abandoned, and what happens in the destination areas? These are the questions that I’m looking at from an environment perspective. I discuss changes in vegetation and agriculture in the context of people’s movements around the Duhok Governorate. I assess drought severity, both from measurements and from people’s perception of it. I also look at how this drought affected people and whether or not it changed their migration patterns, for example if it made more people move to cities.

Finally, the fourth part of this project covers the results of two years of research on migration patterns and environmental changes in the Duhok governorate in Kurdistan. The results I have so far in this project are many, but some are more relevant to policy makers and society than others. For example, I found that many families left the cities because they did not have access to a house. Furthermore, many of the families living in villages reported road quality and access to health care and education to be major problems, which means that if the rural infrastructure is not improved, people will try to move back to the city. Most importantly, the result that many families left cities for villages might indicate potential for agricultural development – a bit less than half of the city-to-village migrant families reported that they were active in agriculture. However, few of them were aware of the agricultural development plans that the government has and many considered the government to be lacking in assistance and support programs for rural populations. The drought in 2007-2009 had its peak in 2008 and affected large parts of the Duhok Governorate. Farmers, mainly in areas with higher agricultural dependence, reported drought, but these areas had less out-migration after the drought than other areas. Hence, drought might be a problem, but it did not seem to cause any changes in migration patterns. This assessment might change when more people are engaged in and dependent on agriculture, and therefore good drought mitigation plans are necessary.

The findings of this research project suggest the policy-makers look at the rural areas and not only focus on developing urban areas. If agricultural development is a goal, then policy makers must give greater attention to rural areas in terms of infrastructure development, health care and educational facilities.

Big thanks to Laura Garnett for giving her opinions on an earlier draft of this post. Read her blog post about gender based violence here.

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