Reviving Iraq’s Wetlands

Guest: Andrew Lawler (Union, ME), Science Magazine.

Topic: “After Saddam – Wetland Restoration in Iraq.”

Andrew Lawler is a writer and news reporter for Science Magazine and other periodicals. He has written an article about the marshes and wetlands of southern Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet. Iraq’s second largest city is located here (Basra) and it was the site of some of the world’s first cities. Some believe that the Garden of Eden and Atlantis are located nearby, beneath what is now the Persian Gulf, which did not exist 5,000 years ago.

The British were the first to alter the marshes, in an attempt to create additional farmland. Saddam Hussein carried this much farther, in 1994, by building many canals and draining a large percentage of the marshes. As a result, many thousands of indigenous Marsh Arabs ended up without drinking water or a livelihood and they perished. As of 2003, there are still Marsh Arabs but their population is much smaller and they are much poorer.

Since the 2003 United States invasion, many of the dikes have been town down and optimism is high that the marshes can be brought back. However, not all are coming back very rapidly and the need for water is greater than it was in 1994. Also, Turkey has been damming the upper Tigris and Euphrates, which affects not only the marshes but all of Iraq.

Ecologically, the Iraqi marshes are unlike the Everglades. They produce considerable food, there is much dry ground and it is home to many cities and towns. Fishing remains the dominant industry and many Marsh Arabs still live in reed huts.

5,000 years ago, humans altered the local climate by digging canals and building cities. The potential of humans to alter the environment in 2010 is infinitely greater and we need to use our technology to improve, not destroy.

Lately, they want to drill for oil in the Iraqi marshes.

See www.sciencemagazine.org.

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