Liberation of the Mesopotamian Wetlands

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

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A dream of restoring Iraq?s great marshes

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