Fifteen years after nearly being annihilated by Saddam Hussein, almost half of Iraq’s fabled marshlands of Mesopotamia, considered by some to be the original Garden of Eden, have been restored with water and wildlife, thanks to a multi-million dollar effort managed by the UN Environment Program, UNEP.
Satellite images released this week showed that almost 50 percent of the total area, one of the world’s largest wetland ecosystems, had been re-flooded, in sharp contrast to agency images in 2001 revealing 90 percent of the marshlands had already been lost.
They were ravaged by a vast drainage operation carried out by Hussein’s government after the 1991 Persian Gulf War intending to punish and displace the area’s indigenous Shiite people who made their living entirely from the free-flowing water. The result was the desertification of the Tigres and Euphrates rivers’ millennia-old wetlands and near destruction of a unique cultural heritage.
Once an area totalling almost 9,000 square kilometres (7,700 square miles), only 9 percent of the marshlands remained in 2002.
As the regime fell in 2003, people began to open dams and break down the embankments that had been built in series of local community-led campaigns funded by Japan and Italy and managed by UNEP.
Up to 22,000 people living in the area are now getting access to safe drinking water, UNEP said. The program aims eventually to provide clean water for up to 100,000.
300 Iraqis have been trained in marshland management techniques.
By mid 2006, 23 kilometres of water distribution pipes and 86 common distribution taps had been installed. A sanitation system pilot project is being implemented in the community of Al-Chibayish.