Liberation of the Mesopotamian Wetlands


| April 18, 2003

The phrase ?Iraqi wetlands? is not an oxymoron. It?s ?an unexpected beneficiary of the war with Iraq,? according to Glen Martin of the San Francisco Chronicle. Ten years ago, Mesopotamian marshes were the largest in the Middle East, and were thought to be the ?inspiration for the Garden of Eden in the Bible and the Koran.? Today they are the focus of Eden Again, a project devoted to restoring ?one of the most important wetland systems in the world.?

Located at the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the wetlands once covered more than 20,000 square kilometers. In addition to being Iraq?s main source for fish and habitat to an array of exotic wildlife, it was also home to ?ma?dan,? a group of Shiite Arabs opposed to Saddam Hussein?s regime. In the mid-1990s, Hussein attacked ma?dan villages, drained the water, and used pesticides to kill the wildlife and deplete ?[about] 88 percent of the marsh,? said Chris Lagan, media director of the World Resources Institute.

Scientists who attended a February UC Irvine conference will soon publish a paper on potential restoration strategies. Conservationists anticipate that the document will become ?a blueprint of great significance? in rebuilding the ecosystem. Michelle Stevens, a Sacramento State University professor of environmental studies and manager of Eden Again, cited two short-term goals for the restoration: ?identifying areas so toxic [that] it would be counterproductive to hydrate them? and working around ?projects in Turkey, Syria, and Iran [that] have significantly reduced the flow down the Tigris and Euphrates.? The key to this project?s funding could be economic stimulus through the development of Iraqi fisheries. The World Bank may not see the benefit of restoring the ecosystem, said professor of environmental engineering Thomas L. Chrisman, but it does ?understand robust commercial fisheries.?
-Erin Ferdinand

Go There>> A dream of restoring Iraq?s great marshes