Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Iraq's Mosul Springs Back to Life 10 Years after It Fell to ISIS

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the old city of Erbil, Iraq September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the old city of Erbil, Iraq September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo
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Iraq's Mosul Springs Back to Life 10 Years after It Fell to ISIS

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the old city of Erbil, Iraq September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the old city of Erbil, Iraq September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo

It was the simple night-time act of watering flowers on his street in Mosul's Old City that made Saqr Zakaria stop and think about just how safe this last bastion of ISIS militants had become since it was liberated in 2017.
"I thought for a second, 'where am I?'" said Zakaria, who left the city in 2005 but returned to set up a cultural center, the Baytna Foundation, in 2018 at a time when thousands of bodies were still being cleared from the ruins.
The extremist group declared its caliphate at the Grand al-Nuri Mosque just down the road after taking Mosul a decade ago, imposing their own extreme interpretation of Islam that saw them kill members of minority groups, ban music and destroy archaeological sites.
The maze of alleyways in this part of the city on the west bank of the Tigris River became a site of regular killings, kidnappings and crime with the rise of extremist insurgents after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Much of it was pulverized, and thousands of civilians were killed, in the battle to free it.
But despite political infighting, allegations of corruption and delayed reconstruction, life is returning on both sides of the river.
Many of the more than two dozen people who spoke to a Reuters reporter on a four-night visit to the city said they felt more secure today than at any time in the last two decades.
"Life consisted of eating and sleeping and locking your door so you're not kidnapped or killed or blown up. We were deprived, and today we are making that up," said Zakaria. His foundation, housed in a traditional Moslawi home with an inner courtyard, has become a leading attraction for local and foreign visitors, including French President Emmanuel Macron in 2021.
Shortly after he spoke, an elderly man walked into the courtyard and shed tears at the sight of pictures, hung on a wall, of the city's intellectual and cultural elite that harkened back to better days.
"This is Mosul," said Nizar Al-Khayat, a former school director in his 70s, his voice wavering. "No matter what, it remains a cultured, civilized city."
Local officials and residents say there is a long way to go before Mosul sheds the legacy of ISIS.
Rubble is still being cleared seven years after the city was liberated. Pockmarked buildings with collapsed floors and exposed rebar can still be seen around Mosul. The Old City is in ruins.
But bridges have gone up. New restaurants have opened where patrons tuck into Lebanese cuisine and sway their heads to the nostalgic sound of Syrian tenors.
A souk and curbside cafes by the river buzz with life late into the night, formerly unthinkable in a city where people locked themselves in their homes by late afternoon.
Even as the city works to restore basic infrastructure, it is focused on expanding green areas and tourist attractions like a new riverside corniche, said Firas al-Sultan, a technical adviser to Mosul municipality.
Monuments to the city's rich inter-faith history, like the Grand Nuri Mosque and the Al-Tahera Church visited by Pope Francis in 2021, are being rebuilt.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
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Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)

Golden fields of wheat no longer produce the bounty they once did in Morocco. A six-year drought has imperiled the country's entire agriculture sector, including farmers who grow cereals and grains used to feed humans and livestock.

The North African nation projects this year's harvest will be smaller than last year in both volume and acreage, putting farmers out of work and requiring more imports and government subsidies to prevent the price of staples like flour from rising for everyday consumers.

"In the past, we used to have a bounty — a lot of wheat. But during the last seven or eight years, the harvest has been very low because of the drought," said Al Housni Belhoussni, a small-scale farmer who has long tilled fields outside of the city of Kenitra.

Belhoussni's plight is familiar to grain farmers throughout the world confronting a hotter and drier future. Climate change is imperiling the food supply and shrinking the annual yields of cereals that dominate diets around the world — wheat, rice, maize and barley.

In North Africa, among the regions thought of as most vulnerable to climate change, delays to annual rains and inconsistent weather patterns have pushed the growing season later in the year and made planning difficult for farmers.

In Morocco, where cereals account for most of the farmed land and agriculture employs the majority of workers in rural regions, the drought is wreaking havoc and touching off major changes that will transform the makeup of the economy. It has forced some to leave their fields fallow. It has also made the areas they do elect to cultivate less productive, producing far fewer sacks of wheat to sell than they once did.

In response, the government has announced restrictions on water use in urban areas — including on public baths and car washes — and in rural ones, where water going to farms has been rationed.

"The late rains during the autumn season affected the agriculture campaign. This year, only the spring rains, especially during the month of March, managed to rescue the crops," said Abdelkrim Naaman, the chairman of Nalsya. The organization has advised farmers on seeding, irrigation and drought mitigation as less rain falls and less water flows through Morocco's rivers.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates that this year's wheat harvest will yield roughly 3.4 million tons (3.1 billion kilograms), far less than last year's 6.1 million tons (5.5 billion kilograms) — a yield that was still considered low. The amount of land seeded has dramatically shrunk as well, from 14,170 square miles (36,700 square kilometers) to 9,540 square miles (24,700 square kilometers).

Such a drop constitutes a crisis, said Driss Aissaoui, an analyst and former member of the Moroccan Ministry for Agriculture.

"When we say crisis, this means that you have to import more," he said. "We are in a country where drought has become a structural issue."

Leaning more on imports means the government will have to continue subsidizing prices to ensure households and livestock farmers can afford dietary staples for their families and flocks, said Rachid Benali, the chairman of the farming lobby COMADER.

The country imported nearly 2.5 million tons of common wheat between January and June. However, such a solution may have an expiration date, particularly because Morocco's primary source of wheat, France, is facing shrinking harvests as well.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Morocco as the world's sixth-largest wheat importer this year, between Türkiye and Bangladesh, which both have much bigger populations.

"Morocco has known droughts like this and in some cases known droughts that las longer than 10 years. But the problem, this time especially, is climate change," Benali said.