Litter Bugs and Boy Racers Spoil Kurdistan

The construction boom across Kurdistan inevitably creates ugly building sites but they soon go and landscaping can blend the new build into the environment. Sadly other eyesores just seem to go on forever.

Kurds are fiercely patriotic judging by all the flags fluttering here. But you wouldn’t know that from the scourge of litter on their roads and verges.

When I first came here in 2006 I thought that the plastic glinting in the sun I saw constantly was from protections for seedling plants. Sadly they were just discarded water bottles which are a large part of the Kurdish litter epidemic.

I am told that things are improving in that many families who take to the countryside on Fridays for their picnics collect the detritus and put it into bags but then just leave them there.

The state then literally picks up the bill by sending in people to cart it all away.  They should always provide bins in beauty spots and picnic areas.

The mess is an indictment of Kurdish society and requires cultural and legislative change. The solution is rather simple. Don’t throw your rubbish on the ground and put it in bins or take it home. Or face a fine.

It is about building individual and collective responsibility and also part of the process of getting smart about the environment.

Zero tolerance on littering encourages recycling which also drives using energy more efficiently. The solar-powered street lamps you can see on the old Hamilton Road to Shaqlawa are just the start.

But there is another type of mess you can see on the road – traffic jams and, much worse, traffic collisions.

Driving is a major political issue here. As wealth has increased in recent years so has urban congestion. This can be eased by new infrastructure and traffic management.

The driver is king in Kurdistan and although pedestrian crossings have appeared in large numbers they are not really respected.

On the open road, despite signs, radar and new traffic helicopters fast macho driving is the rage. Superfast landcruisers and other high-performance beasts do breakneck speeds on two lane highways which causes head on crashes. The widespread use of mobiles by drivers adds to the toll. It’s so sad to see young kids without seatbelts standing in the front of speeding cars. They face instant death in accidents.

My guess is that road deaths and injuries are well above average. This represents individual tragedy but also a high social cost in police time, health care, lost productivity and more.

A mixture of enforcement and encouragement can change the bad habits that drive all this.

Banning  tinted windows sent the right signal. They were the symbol of a powerful elite which thinks that traffic laws are for the little people. All need to obey them for the good of all Kurds and visitors.

But also to make Kurdistan a destination for tourists. People often ask me if it is dangerous to come to Kurdistan.¬† They mean terrorism and the answer is no. I wouldn’t want litter or road deaths to put off potential visitors.

They are missing some of the most beautiful and jaw-dropping sights in the world. Outside the cities the plains, high mountains and crisp springs loom large in this small place.

It is incredibly friendly to foreigners. We were asked in for chai by a complete stranger today but sadly were in a rush.

Iraqi Kurdistan could earn a decent crust out of tourism. Judging by the number of coaches with Arab Iraqis it is a destination of choice already. But western tourists just hear the word Iraq and those who say people should go there are deemed eccentric or foolish.

More tourism would be helped by eliminating litter and curbing boys own drivers. A decent travel guide plus maps to the many sights of this lovely place. I hope that one soon due will do the trick. Kurdistan is blossoming for the business community but that relationship is only just beginning for tourists.

Tourism may continue to grow as a niche market for those attracted by ancient battlefields and archaeology.

It can come to include bigger markets for those who like a good dry heat (though count me out in the hot high summer itself) and restfulness.

I have seen many supposedly intractable problems solved in coming here since 2006. These issues can be tidied up but quickly, please.

Gary Kent is the Administrator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

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