The last time this columnist lived in Iraqi (or South) Kurdistan was in 2016, in a nice little house in Ganjan City just outside of Erbil. The homes in Ganjan City, like many others in the new housing developments of Erbil (English Village, Italy 1 and 2, Lebanese Village and others), sport charming exteriors, little gardens and all the basics one needs. Unfortunately, they also seem to completely lack any sort of insulation.
In this columnist’s house in Ganjan City, only the bedrooms possessed window-mounted heating and cooling units. The rest of the house grew beastly hot within an hour of sunrise in summer. One had to take multiple showers a day just to cool off. In winter, the house was extremely cold all the time. Being Canadian, one would think this columnist is used to cold – but homes in Canada have good insulation, so that even during electricity outages one can keep the houses reasonably warm with just a small wood stove.
Traditional homes in Kurdistan, with their mud and earth and straw-insulated walls, actually remain much more pleasant and energy-efficient than the new structures built there. In villages and small towns like Choman, Soran and Amedi, one doesn’t even need an air conditioning unit in summer or more than a small stove or heater in winter.
Villagers of the region had the good sense, since thousands of years, to build their homes correctly. When modernity came to Kurdistan this long-held wisdom was apparently forgotten. In an effort to build new homes and office buildings as quickly as possible and sell them for as much profit as possible, basic common sense was sacrificed.
Curious about the issue, this columnist went to examine the new homes under construction in Ganjan City and other parts of Erbil. What he saw were cement cinder blocks being stacked on each other and then covered with stucco, with no insulation at all. The electric wiring being placed into the new structures also appeared problematic and dangerous in places, increasing the risk of fires and other accidents.
Besides too-frequent news headlines of fires and similar accidents, the results of this building approach costs the region and its people dearly in terms of electricity demands, heating oil and quality of life.
Even leaving aside issues related to climate change and global warming, the high energy demands of uninsulated buildings costs a great deal of money for the region, causes infrastructure problems, contributes to frequent power outages and increases pollution in the cities. It also negatively impacts the quality of life in Kurdistan, with more than a few people mentioning to this columnist that they miss the old rural homes of their ancestral villages.
The solution to the problem must, in all likelihood, come from mandatory building codes. Building permits should only be issued for structures that include some reasonable levels of insulation and other safety and energy-efficiency measures. Although this would undoubtedly increase the up-front costs of building and purchasing homes and business, the resulting savings and reduced strain on the region’s energy supplies and environment would quickly make up the difference.
Every litre of heating oil, cubic metre of natural gas or kilowatt hour of electricity saved from better insulated buildings in the region would not only reduce costs for average people, but also be available for export rather than domestic consumption – earning more revenues for the region. While retro-fitting existing structures can prove prohibitively expensive, building them right in the first place is not.
By this logic, new structures in the region should also be built with a view to adding solar panels in the near future, as soon as possible. While owners might not be able to afford panels immediately, this may change as the region’s economy continues to improve. Given the Middle East’s climate, every home and business in the area should have such panels. Such improvements would in turn serve as another step towards preparing Kurdistan for a bright future.
David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.