Local fish and wildlife provide protein. Traditional Ma’dan houseSource: iraqupdate. wordpress.com-marsh-arabs Official statistics are lacking, but it is estimated that in the 1950s the Ma’dan marsh population was 400,000 to 500,000. Draining of the Mesopotamian marshlands began with the British in the 1950s. They considered the marshes to be economically useless and a breeding ground for mosquitos, and started a project to direct water from the central Euphrates region into the desert.
Things got worse under Saddam Hussein. In the 1990s he not only completed the main outfall drain project started by the British, but also constructed a system of canals and embankments which desiccated most of the marshlands. This was for agricultural schemes and oil exploration, but also to drive out the rebellious Marsh Arabs and fugitives who were hiding in the marshes.
The rest of the area became a salt-crusted desert susceptible to dust storms. The region’s famed biodiversity was devastated. Besides fish and amphibians, dozens of species of migratory and endemic birds lost their habitat. The smooth-coated otter, bandicoot rat, long-fingered bat, and African darter bird are thought to have become entirely extinct.
Human population declined as well. The remaining Ma’dan numbered only around 20,000 in 2003. About one-fifth of those who fled went to refugee camps in Iran; some went overseas; the rest were displaced within Iraq. Map 1. Mesopotamian Marshes, 1973 to 2002Source: Middleton, Nick. Restoring Eden. Geodate 18(3), 2005. A 2001 report by the United Nations Environment Program, The Mesopotamian Marshlands: Demise of an Ecosystem, brought the tragedy to worldwide attention.
With support from the non-profit Iraq Foundation, they assembled a group of international experts in 2002 and began to make a plan for restoring the marshlands. When Saddam Hussein’s regime was deposed in 2003, things changed rapidly. The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources created the Center for Restoration of the Iraqi Marshlands, and also that year the New Eden Project, a cooperative project between the Italian and Iraqi governments, began to develop a master plan for sustainable development of the marshlands.
Beginning in 2005, scientific conferences for the rehabilitation of the Iraqi marshes have been held regularly—covering everything from agriculture and economic enterprises to psychology and veterinary medicine. In 2007 the Hawizeh Marsh—the only permanent marsh remaining after desiccation—was declared a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
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The Marsh Arabs began to return as well; estimated population in 2005 was 60,000. Map 2 shows the progress of marsh restoration between 2003 and 2005. The Central Marshes made a miraculous recovery, and planning is underway to establish a Mesopotamian Marshland National Park there with the purposes of ecosystem restoration, education and research, and ecotourism. cialis online.
But not all the reflooded land fared so well. Some is progressing more slowly and some simply remains as “saltwater desert” because of high soil salinity or impermeable surface. Overall, it is estimated that about 30% of the marshlands have a realistic potential for complete restoration. Map 2. Mesopotamian Marshes, 2003 to 2005Source: UNEP To see the PBS Nature show “Braving Iraq,” go to http://video.
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