UN Launches Project To Save Iraq's Marshlands
Iraqi Marshlands, still could be restored?
BAGHDAD, July 25 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) The United
Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has launched an eleven-million-
dollar project to restore the environment and provide clean drinking
water for Iraqis in the 5000-year-old Marshlands of Mesopotamia.
The Marshlands, considered by some to be the location of the Biblical
Garden of Eden, were massively damaged in the late 20th Century,
partly as a result of new dams on the Tigris and Euphrates river
systems and partly as a result of massive drainage operations by the
previous Iraqi regime, according to the UNEP web site.
During the seventies, more than 500,000 Arabs lived in the area but
were displaced as a result of projects on the rivers.
In 2001, UNEP alerted the world to their plight when it released
satellite images showing that 90 per cent of these fabled wetlands,
home to rare and unique species like the Sacred Ibis and African
darter, and a spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, had been lost.
Experts fear the Marchlands could disappear altogether by 2008.
A UN survey found that most Iraqis in the region were collecting
water directly from the Marshlands, that many settlements lacked
basic sanitation and that waterborne diseases were commonplace.
The Marshlands were vital to the fisheries of the Arab Gulf,
filtering polluted water from northern cities and purifying it before
it reached the southern rivers and the city of Basra.
With the collapse of the former Iraqi regime in mid-2003, local
residents began opening floodgates and breaching embankments in order
to bring water back into the marshlands.
Satellite images indicate that, by April this year, around a fifth or
some 3,000 square kilometers of the marshes had been re-flooded.
The project brings hope to Marsh Arabs
The Japan-funded project, launched on Friday, July 23, will support
the sustainable development and restoration of the Marshlands through
implementation of environmentally sound technologies.
The challenge now is to restore the environment and provide clean
water and sanitation services to the up to 85,000 people living
Drinking water and sanitation systems will be installed in key
communities and pilot wetlands restoration undertaken for the benefit
of people and wildlife.
The project, approved in the framework of the UN Iraq Trust Fund,
will initially target around a dozen settlements with small-scale
water treatment systems some of which are likely to be solar powered.
Reed beds and other marshland habitats which act as natural, water-
filtration systems, will be restored which will benefit not only
local residents but also provide new habitats for birds and other key
Other activities will include the setting up of a Marshland
Information Network, an Internet-based system that will allow those
with an interest in the region to share their ideas and strategies.
Satellite images, documenting how restoration work is faring and
chronicling changes in vegetation and the progress of re-flooding,
will be posted on the site almost daily.
Some of the funds will support public awareness schemes, both locally
The project will also help train the Iraqi authorities, both at
national government and local levels.
It will train experts in wetland management and restoration, remote
sensing analysis and community-based resource management.
Several other governments and non-governmental organizations are
involved in the Iraqi Marshlands.
The UNEP project aims to strengthen the coordination of these various
efforts to ensure maximum benefit for the people and wildlife there.
It is envisaged that this coordinated approach will be applied to the
future development of a wider Marshlands strategy in the region.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: " The Marshlands of
Mesopotamia constitute the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle
East And Western Eurasia. They are also culturally significant. UNEP
has taken a keen interest in their fate, documenting their
destruction and alerting the world to their demise".
"I am therefore delighted that the Japanese government has stepped in
to support a new beginning for the Marshlands and the Marsh Arabs.
Half the world's wetlands have been lost in the past 100 years. I am
sure that the lessons learnt during this project will provide
important clues on how to resuscitate other lost and degraded
wetlands elsewhere on the globe," he added.
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