“The lakeshore and riverside areas have a stunning natural beauty. Many people come from the south of Iraq to enjoy the scenery and the fresh air.” This is how the tourism promotion website for the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan optimistically describes Darbandikhan Lake, an artificial lake about 60 kilometres out of one of the major towns in the region, Sulaymaniyah.
The lake may look beautiful but it's waters are polluted – and seem to be becoming more polluted all the time. The lake is fed by the Tanjero River, which runs through nearby Sulaymaniyah and collects all kinds of wastewater, including chemical poisons, raw sewage and other garbage, along the way. A dam on one of the contributory rivers is also causing problems for the lake.
The concentration of heavy metals like cadmium, nickel and mercury in the waters is way above international safety standards, according to various researchers from universities and relevant departments in Iraqi Kurdistan. The poisoned waters are killing the fish and other fauna – local conservation organisation, Nature Iraq, has compiled several reports on the lake's declining health and reports that there are annual fish mortality events. In 2008, the local Ministry of Health declared the lake's water unsuitable for drinking. And many locals believe that the poisoned lake is also causing a wide variety of health problems for the people that live around it.
Over the summer, Metrography photographer, Hama Sur, paid many visits to the lake and to the people living around it, documenting how the lake waters are used, despite the fact that its is widely acknowledged by locals that the waters are poisoned.