The U.S. invasion of Iraq will be debated for years to come as
history sorts out its perceived accomplishments and disasters, but
there is little disagreement over one positive by-product of the
war: the opportunity to save the country’s unique marshes.
Formerly recognized as one of the world’s great wetland
ecosystems, covering 12,000 square miles in southern Iraq and
renowned for diverse plant and animal life, the marshes also
provided sustenance to the traditional Ma’dan people (also known as
Marsh Arabs) before Saddam Hussein drained the region after the
first Gulf War as a political punishment of the Ma’dan. While some
of the damage may be irreversible, environmentalists now believe
the marshes can be at least partly restored.
‘There’s a sense it will take a tremendous amount of effort, but
it’s not impossible,’ Chris Lagan of the World Resources Institute
told the San Francisco Chronicle (April 7, 2003).
The primary challenge involves filling the marshes at a time when
Iraq’s water reserves are perilously low. Still, Lagan is
optimistic, noting that the project could be ‘the greatest single
wetland restoration in the history of the world.’
While environmental restoration in Iraq is surely good news,
equally inspiring efforts are under way in other battle-scarred
countries. In Afghan-istan, environmental efforts are focusing not
on a particular habitat but on reviving sustainable farming
techniques. ‘Before the wars,’ reports Rob Schultheis in
Sierra (May/June 2003), ‘Afghanistan was a triumph
of human ingenuity in one of the harshest environments on Earth.’
Windmills, terrace farming, irrigation tunnels, and solar-powered
drying houses represent just a few of the Afghans’ innovative
techniques for desert living. Unfortunately, decades of fighting
reduced many of these simple yet innovative systems to rubble.
Small-scale community-based restoration efforts are sprouting
all over the country. The Afghans’ ‘intimate knowledge of their
uncompromising homeland and their passionate love for it’ will
ensure that these efforts succeed, Schultheis writes.
War also plays a role in restoration efforts on the Korean
peninsula, in an area preserved, not destroyed, by war. The debate
here revolves around the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), initially
a barren buffer between the north and south that, left alone for 50
years, has become a teeming wildlife refuge.
South Korean native and Penn State University scientist Ke Chung
Kim is spearheading a project to keep the refuge intact despite
proposed rail lines and highways through the DMZ that could
threaten the sanctuary’s existence. As reported in Kyoto
Journal (#53), Kim is a leader in the fight to protect
this unique habitat, a crusade that he believes ‘may yet help bring
about lasting peace, reunification, and the revivification of
Korea’s degraded ecosystem.’
More than just a silver lining to the difficult aftermath of
war, these projects offer lessons in sustainable development for
the rest of the world.