The smoke of Barzan’s cigarette mingled with the plumes of smoke coming out of the burned trash dumped on the bank of Kirkuk’s Khasa rive,r as he sat on a the concrete barrier built on both sides.
Barzan, a 22- year old resident of Kirkuk city can’t find anywhere to spend the evening hours but to go to the Khasa river bank, which has become a dumpsite instead of being a recreational site.
“I often spend the evening sitting here at the bank of Khasa; if this place were in any other part of the world, it would have become a lucrative source of income, but as you see, this place has become a garbage heap,” Barzan told KirkukNow.
Khasa is a winterbourne river which runs through the city of Kirkuk. It dries up completely in the summer, but turns into a raging river in the winter which floods its banks at times. The river has a symbolic value to the city's inhabitants.
A project to turn the river into a recreational site was launched under former governor of Kirkuk, Najmaddin Karim, yet little progress was achieved before it was brought to halt.
“Our home is located in Sarchnar neighborhood on the bank of Khasa River. This place was planned to be turned into a tourist site, but all we see now is a trash site,” said Khalid Karim.
What adds to the suffering of the residents is the burning of the garbage in the evening, which causes the emission of toxic gases posing health risks, particularly for those who live near the river.
Along the Khasa river, trash could be seen on both banks. In some parts, it has become a place for buffalo herding, and in the evening, street vendors and shopkeepers set fire to the waste they throw along the river, resulting in the emission of black plumes of smoke.
“the Kirkuk Water Directorate had a project to turn Khasa into a tourist site, but the lack of budget brought the project to a halt,’ Sardar Ali Hassan, head of Kirkuk Municipality told KirkukNow.
The municipality official added that another project was underway to pave both sides of Khasa with asphalt, but the project stopped at the end of 2013.
"Although we are continuously carry out clean-up campaigns, but unless the tourist project is implemented the situation will remain as it is,” he said.
Aziz Khalil, another resident of Kirkuk, believes that puts the blame for the accumulation of garbage at public places on the municipality arguing that “the municipality’s garbage trucks come once a month to some areas.”
“The government constructed pavements on both sides of the river, but it was later turned into a dump,” says Khalil adding that things get worse in the summer due to the unpleasant smell from the garbage.
Khasa River, which is approximately 190 km long, used to be the lifeline of Kirkuk, particularly for the farms located on its banks; however, the river was subjected to neglect in the past years.
The disturbing smoke coming out from the burning waste forces Barzan to leave the place even before he finished smoking his cigarette. “Some people might be happy that they live in a city, but actually this is no better than a village. In fact the living in countryside is healthier, because at least you can breathe fresh air there,” Barzan concluded.