Outside the city of Karbala in central Iraq, a nearly 330-foot-wide wall of palm trees and olive trees sways in the dust. Its north axis extends far around the city in a 16-mile arc. Its southern axis extends another 13 miles.
Trees weren’t always there. These natural windbreaks were first proposed as a measure to protect the city’s 576,000 residents in 2006. The dust storms that sweep through Iraq each year wreak havoc on the streets and send thousands to hospitals with breathing difficulties. Some even get killed. The Karbala wall, full of trees, was intended to calm storms and purify the air of small dust particles.
Such green belts are becoming more popular as countries in arid regions struggle with more dust storms. Global warming and inefficient water management have increased droughts by nearly a third in some areas Since 2000. Drought, in turn, increases the chances of strong winds collecting sand and dust particles on their way toward populated areas. The Iraqi government expects the country to experience 272 dust days annually Over the next twenty years.
Addressing the cause of the problem – climate change – requires global efforts. But windbreak protective structures such as those around Karbala represent a potential first aid solution. One such belt of trees around an urban area in Dubai was capable of this Reduce dust in the air by up to 22 percent.
“You, as a human being, are the most dangerous species to harm the system by devising solutions that are incompatible with that environment.“
– Ali Al-Dosari, Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research
“If they are tall trees, they will absorb some of the dust that is in the atmosphere as they pass,” Nick Middleton, a fellow in physical geography at the University of Oxford, told The Daily Beast. “It will be deposited on the leaves, and therefore, not in the area you are supposed to protect. You can use it as a kind of dust barrier itself.”
Tree walls help communities in other ways, too. They improve air quality by acting as carbon dioxide sinks, cooling the surrounding atmosphere, providing new environments for animals to live in, and building them brings money and jobs to low-income communities. But it is also full of challenges.
Greenbelts require huge funding to cover the cost of labor and the trees themselves. With the Karbala Green Belt and others in place, these large budgets may be very attractive to corrupt officials in some states. “You might have a lot of money,” Middleton said. “But if someone turns it on for other things, it doesn’t serve its purpose.”
In fact, the engineers were unable to finish the original 47-mile ranch in the Iraqi city. And allocated about 16 billion dinars (11 million dollars) for the huge project. Only Nine Billion ($6 Million) succeeded in making it happen, to me A former member of the Karbala Council.
Even with access to the necessary funding, tree walls require enormous efforts to maintain. China’s “Great Green Wall” was planted approximately 2,800 miles away to prevent the expansion of the Gobi Desert, the world’s fastest growing desert that devour 2,237 miles of pasture each year. But water shortages have consistently hampered efforts, and only 15 percent of the trees planted have survived since the project began.
Ali Al-Dosari, a senior researcher at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, helped develop many of these projects. He believes that a more natural approach can improve the chances of success. He said one of the main reasons the projects failed was due to their use of non-native plants. These plants may require huge amounts of water because their roots are adapting to another environment. On the other hand, native plants often thrive when planted in the same location.
“Native plants are the real solution for the future,” Al Dosari told The Daily Beast. “Plants have the ability to capture, use, adapt and stabilize sand.”
The placement of the protective tree walls could also make a difference, he said. Previously abandoned desert areas may not provide the right environment for plants to survive. His native Kuwait, for example, is trying to plant a belt of trees near its desert border with Iraq – expecting to fail at a very high cost.
Green belts can damage biodiversity. His research team noticed that trees on one of the farms he grew attracted large numbers of birds of prey, including eagles and hawks. Existing groups of lizards, snakes and foxes disappeared from the area soon after. Another farm on a Kuwaiti island changed the migration pattern of a rare species of bird that had laid eggs in the area.
“The whole ecosystem has changed,” he said. “You, as a human, are the most dangerous species to harm the system by devising solutions that are incompatible with that environment.”
Encouraging growth in areas where vegetation can thrive would be the best way forward, Al Dosari said. His analysis found that organic matter such as seeds and pollen made up about 5 percent of the particles swept up in dust storms. Planting farms along dust storm roads may provide a self-sustaining solution.
“Once things are in the air, it becomes difficult to protect yourself. It may also be that you are spending your time and money more effectively by figuring out where it originally came from.“
– Nick Middleton, University of Oxford
Middleton believes that success may be closer to the source of the dust storms. “Once things are in the air, it’s hard to protect yourself,” he said. “It may be that you are spending your time and money more effectively by figuring out where it originally came from.”
Al-Dosari completed a tour of southern Iraq in January 2019 to take dust samples at various locations along the Euphrates River. Discover two specific hotspots where up to a third of the dust that flows into Kuwait originates. He is now trying to cooperate with the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture to stabilize the dust in the source areas.
“We don’t do research for the purpose of research,” he said. We are trying to help about 40 million people affected by these two hot spots. And not only 40 million, but also the next new generations.”