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Science And Nature

Iraq’s Garden of Eden now ‘like a desert’

Children stand on a boat lying on the dried-up bed of southern Iraq's receding Chibayish Marshes
Children stand on a boat lying on the dried-up bed of southern Iraq’s receding Chibayish Marshes.

To feed and cool his buffaloes, Hashem Gassed must cross 10 kilometers (six miles) of sunburnt land in southern Iraq, where drought is devastating swathes of the mythical Mesopotamian Marshes.

The reputed home of the biblical Garden of Eden, Iraq’s swamplands have already been battered by 3 years of drought and low rainfall, and also reduced water flows along rivers and tributaries while it began with neighboring Turkey and Iran.

Vast expanses of the once lush Huwaizah Marshes, straddling the border with Iran, have already been baked dry, their vegetation yellowing. Stretches of the Chibayish Marshes, which are favored by tourists, are suffering exactly the same fate.

“The are our livelihoodwe used to fish here and our livestock could graze and drink,” said Gassed, 35, from the hamlet near Huwaizah.

Southern Iraq’s marshlands were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016, both for his or her biodiversity and their ancient history.

However now, beds of dry streams snake round the once verdant wetlands, and the area’s Um al-Naaj lake has been reduced to puddles of muddy water among largely dry ground.

Like his father before him, Gassed raises buffaloes, but only five of the family’s around 30 animals are left.

Others died or were sold because the family struggles to create ends meet.

An aerial view shows water buffaloes grazing on straw while surrounded by dried and cracked soil in Iraq's Chibayish Marshes are
An aerial view shows water buffaloes grazing on straw while surrounded by dried and cracked soil in Iraq’s Chibayish Marshes area.

Family watch carefully over the ones that remain, fearful that the weak, underfed beasts might fall in the mud and die.

“We’ve been protesting for a lot more than two years no one is listening,” Gassed said.

“We have been baffled where you can go. Our lives are over.”

‘No more fish’

Nestled between your Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian Marshes suffered beneath the former dictator Saddam Hussein, who ordered they be drained in 1991 as punishment for communities protecting insurgents, also to hunt them down.

The wetlands have sporadically been through years of harsh drought previously, before being revived by good rainy seasons.

But between August 2020 which month, 46 percent of the swamplands of southern Iraq, including Huwaizah and Chibayish, suffered total surface water loss, in accordance with Dutch peace-building organization PAX.

Family members watch carefully over the buffaloes that remain, fearful that the weak, underfed beasts might fall in the mud and
Family watch carefully on the buffaloes that remain, fearful that the weak, underfed beasts might fall in the mud and die.

Another 41 percent of marsh areas experienced reduced and wetness, based on the organization, that used to help make the assessment.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Iraq said the marshes were “among the poorest regions in Iraq and something of the very most suffering from the “, warning of “unprecedented low water levels”.

It noted the “disastrous impact” on a lot more than 6,000 families who “are losing their buffaloes, their particular living asset”.

Biodiversity can be at an increased risk.

The swamplands give a home for “numerous populations of threatened species”, and so are a significant stopping point for about 200 species of migratory water birds, in accordance with UNESCO.

Environmental activist Ahmed Saleh Neema said there have been “forget about fish”, or perhaps a subspecies of smooth-coated otter in the marshes.

This combination of handout satellite images shows the region of Iraq's drought-stricken southern marshes including Huwaizah (no
This mix of handout satellite images shows the spot of Iraq’s drought-stricken southern marshes including Huwaizah (north) and Qurnah (south) on (L to R) August 8, 2021 and on a single day in 2022.

‘Like a desert’

He said the Huwaizah swamplands were irrigated by two tributaries of the Tigris River, which originates in Turkey, but that their flows had dropped.

Iraqi authorities are rationing supplies to cover different needs, he said.

“The federal government really wants to preserve the biggest level of water possible,” he added, lamenting “unfair water sharing” and “poor (resource) management”.

After pressure from protesters, authorities partially opened the valves, he said, but had closed them again.

On the Iranian side, the Huwaizah Marshes, called Hoor al-Azim, may also be suffering.

“The wetland is facing water stress and currently about 50 % of its Iranian part has dry out,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported recently.

Hatem Hamid, who heads the Iraqi government’s water management center, said that “on the Iranian side, the primary river that feeds the Huwaizah marsh has been totally cut for greater than a year”.

The water needs of Iraqi farms and marshlands are just half met, he acknowledged, as authorities are closely monitoring reserves and attempting to cover a variety of uses, with normal water among the “priorities”.

Iraqi officials indicate canals and small streams which have been rehabilitated to feed in to the marshesand to where some families have relocated from dried-out areas.

Nonetheless it is “impossible to pay for the high evaporation in the marshes” in temperatures that pass 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), he added.

In Chibayish, the consequences of the drought are too clear to Ali Jawad, who said a large number of families had left his hamlet.

“They migrated towards other regions, searching for areas where there’s water,” the 20-year-old said.

“Before, whenever we used to come quickly to the marshes, there is greenery, , inner peace,” he added.

“Now it’s such as a desert.”

2022 AFP

Citation: Iraq’s Garden of Eden now ‘like a desert’ (2022, August 14) retrieved 15 August 2022 from

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