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Bringing water back to the desert

ID-100155877Hello bloggers! Welcome back from the Easter holiday, I hope this morning finds you refreshed and happy at the improvement in the weather. As the sun is shining and we’re all feeling happier, I thought we’d concentrate on a happier story today. I guess we’re all familiar with the social and political problems that have faced Iraq over the past few decades, but we’d just like to offer one little ray of sunshine, in the form of the ongoing rehabilitation of the Mesopotamian marshes.

The Mesopotamian marshes were a vast area in southern Iraq (which also spilled a little bit into Iran) which were a sanctuary for wildlife. When oil was found under the marshlands in the 1950s, draining began to allow oil extraction and to create agricultural land. When Saddam Hussein took over Iraq he sped up the process and by the time of the invasion in 2003 the marshes were 10% of their original size. Before being drained, the marshes were important as millions of birds lived there, and many other birds used the area as a resting point in their annual migration. Reducing the size of the marshes meant that there was less space for birds to live there and resulted in many species being forced out of the area. It also meant that the marshes became a totally barren area which was unable to sustain agriculture, and that the local people had to move away. The marshes had once been home to 300,000-500,000 people, known as the Marsh Arabs. By 2004 this number had reduced to only 75-85,000 as when refugees returned after the death of Hussein, they found that the marshes could no longer sustain life. Bad news from all angles.

Since 2003, a project has been working to restore the marshes, and this week the chief engineer has won the Goldman prize (an ecological prize). The marshes are a long way away from their former glory, but what is good news is that local people have helped the project to be a success and that 3,500 km2 have been restored as marshlands. Some birds and plants have begun to colonise the area again. It will take many years to get it all back, and it will never be the same as it was before, but progress is being made and things are getting better.

What this illustrates for me is how we as a society have to stop separating the needs of humans and the needs of the environment, they are all so intertwined. We seem to have developed a view that we are above the natural world, but we rely wholly on it, and when local ecology suffers it’s usually the poorest that get hardest hit. If we are truly to care for the poorest members of our species then it is vital that we also look after the land that they use to grow their food and get clean water.


Free images from – NB photo above was not taken in Iraq.

Blog post by Linda Seward of Seward Technical Writing, providers of original science content.

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