Iraq’s Marshes recovering, but now under threat again.17/01/2011 11:22:20
Marshes on TV
A flim documentary on the regeneration of Iraq's Mesopotamian Marshes, a project led by Azzad Alwash, the CEO of BirdLife Affiliate Nature Iraq, was shown on UK's BBC TV Channel. The documentary may be seen (depending on where and when you are on Iplayer), click BBC2's Natural World series.
January 2011. The Mesopotamian marshlands are one of the most extensive wetland ecosystems in western Eurasia, and are home to a rich diversity of life, including a number of endemic and threatened bird species.
But in the 1990s Saddam Hussein drained the Mesopotamian Marshes to punish the indigenous Marsh Arab tribes, who had risen against him after the first Gulf War. Within months, the marshes, which had covered 15,000 square kilometres, were reduced to less than 10% of their original size.
Marshes destroyed by Saddam Hussein
Azzam Alwash used to accompany his father, a government water engineer, on trips into the marshes, trips which infused him with a love of this "magical waterworld". After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Azzam returned to Iraq to help restore the marshes. To that end he established Nature Iraq, an organisation dedicated to the protection and restoration of Iraq's natural heritage.
Large scale restoration
Nature Iraq has undertaken six winter and six summer surveys of the Southern Marshes since 2005 - the most comprehensive survey of any wetland in the Middle East. The surveys have shown that no species of breeding bird has become extinct in the marshes, and that many are increasing as the marshes respond to re-flooding.
Basra reed warbler, Iraq babbler, Imperial and Greater spotted eagles
The surveys have shown that the marshes are also very important for migrant Black-tailed Godwits, breeding Ferruginous Ducks and wintering Eastern Imperial Eagles and Greater Spotted Eagles - all globally threatened species.
Dams threatening the marshes again
Azzam and Nature Iraq are masterminding steps to address this second drying. A large embankment across the Euphrates is being built to raise the level of the river, to flood a large area of the Central Marshes. This is just a stop-gap measure while work progresses on a long-term solution that will shut down one of Saddam's drainage canals, redistributing water using a network of regulators to ensure a ready supply of water to the Central Marshes.
Azzam says, "if we can restore the marshes, then we can restore Iraq". He adds: "What we've learned is that the people and the environment are interconnected here. What's good for the environment is good for the people, what's good for the people is good for the environment, so they are not separate."
Courtesy of BirdLife International