Back to Eden: Restoring the Marshes of Iraq

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by Lefty Wilbury, Nov 5, 2003.

  1. Lefty Wilbury
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    Lefty Wilbury Active Member

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    this is the stuff that SHOULD be front page news and bush and the iraq war should be appluad for otherwise the restoration would NEVER happen. you can click on the links with all these articls to see pictures and satelite photos of the marshes


    http://www.furrowpump.com/Resources/RestoringMarshesIraq.htm

    Back to Eden: Restoring the Marshes of Iraq

    Text by Louis Jacobson
    Special to The Washington Post
    Monday, April 28, 2003; Page A11

    Now that the war in Iraq has come to an abrupt end, a team of scientists will soon be heading to southern Iraq to determine whether a desert twice the size of Rhode Island can be turned back into the primeval marshland it once was -- before Saddam Hussein drained it.

    The marshlands of Mesopotamia, at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, have long been revered both for their unusual wetland ecology and for the 5,000-year-old culture of the Madan, or "Marsh Arabs."

    The marshlands may have been the inspiration for the biblical Garden of Eden, and the Madan are thought to descend from the Sumerians, who established humankind's first civilization.

    As recently as the 1990s, the Madan were still using marsh reeds to construct delicately arched dwellings on artificial islands and waterways. They lived on fish and water buffalo that lived in the marshes and exported the surplus to other parts of Iraq.

    The marshes began to decline in the 1950s as dam-building in Syria and Turkey attenuated the river flows, but the process accelerated dramatically in the 1990s after the Persian Gulf War, when Hussein built giant canals and drains nearby. Most believe Hussein drained the marshes to punish the Shiite Muslims who lived there for opposing his minority Sunni Muslim government.

    Human Rights Watch, a private monitoring group, estimates that the Marsh Arab population collapsed from more than 250,000 to perhaps 40,000 as they were driven elsewhere in Iraq, escaped to Iran or, in some cases, were killed by Hussein's regime.

    During that time, about 95 percent of the marshland itself became a crusty wasteland.

    "You've seen those dust storms as the troops moved north through southern Iraq?" said Suzie Alwash, a geologist who helped organize Eden Again, the group that hopes to lead the marsh-restoration effort. "That used to be the marshland. As U.S. forces crossed the bridge at Nasiriyah, they should have been surrounded by 10-foot-high reeds."

    Whether the project becomes a reality depends on how much funding and other assistance is mustered by the United States, other countries and the United Nations. But in a report to be released tomorrow, an advisory panel of academic and government experts -- convened by Eden Again and funded by a $200,000 grant from the State Department -- is expected to conclude that some restoration is feasible, if the political will can be found.

    During its discussions, the committee identified several technical problems to be avoided. Panel member Thomas L. Crisman, director of the University of Florida's Howard T. Odum Center for Wetlands, notes that "wetlands are not like coffee, where you can just add water. You have to add water in the right quantity, the right quality and the right timing."

    Because Hussein made data such as river flow rates a state secret, many questions will remain unanswered until scientists reach southern Iraq -- in June, if the current schedule holds. The samples they take will help determine which parts of the marshes are likeliest to recover, so that rehabilitation efforts can be triaged.

    For instance, Alwash said, some areas now have salt crusts two feet thick, due to rapid evaporation of brackish groundwater. If new flows of freshwater are not pumped through these areas at high enough rates, they will become lifeless salt ponds rather than new marshlands. In addition, some of the marsh areas were burned over, which may have left these soils too alkaline or acidic to be reclaimed.

    Another concern is contamination -- from industry, sewage, agriculture, military detritus and even deliberate poisonings by Hussein's government.

    Before particular areas are re-flooded, they must be tested for contaminants. If toxins are discovered, those areas can be remedied much more easily when still dry.

    The sediment beds hold the key to the marshes' recovery. They likely contain hardy seeds and nutrients that will become building blocks of new marshes. This legacy can be supplemented, if needed, by replanting reeds that have hung on in relatively untouched areas near the Iraq-Iran border.


    All told, Crisman said, recreating Iraq's marshes will be an even bigger challenge than restoring Florida's Everglades -- a multi-year federal project that aims to remove 500 miles of diversionary canals and levees. The key difference, Crisman said, is that the Everglades already has both a robust inflow of water and an agreed-upon plan to fix the mess. For now, Iraq has neither.

    This problem underscores how the marsh restoration project melds scientific challenges with political ones. Securing an adequate water supply for the project will depend on establishing consensus not only among competing interests in Iraq -- which includes such parties as nearby farmers and oil executives -- but also with officials in Syria and Turkey, whose dams still limit river flows into southern Iraq.

    The main constraining factor in this effort is the availability of water," said Hassan Partow, a research officer with the U.N. Environment Program, a Geneva-based arm of the United Nations that has urged restoration of the marshes since 2000. "The country and the region is in the grips of a water crisis, so it is a political question as well as a technical one that will determine the scale of the restoration." The U.N. agency, he said, plans to convene interested parties in Iraq to discuss the issue by the end of May.

    If such sticky issues can be solved -- and if contamination problems do not prove insurmountable -- then Crisman believes Iraq's marshes can be on the mend within two years. After five or six years, the reborn marshes could "approximate the look and function of a natural wetland."

    Eden Again isn't even venturing a guess of the price tag until scientists on the ground assess the potential scope of the project. Alwash said Iraq's low labor costs should keep costs much lower than equivalent projects in the developed world, and some aspects can probably be accomplished without building a lot of new infrastructure.

    The even bigger challenge, most project advisers agree, will be rehabilitating the Marsh Arab culture. Alwash says she expects many refugees and even some westernized Iraqi exiles to return to the marshes, but she adds that the know-how to build reed houses or catch seafood in the marshes can evaporate in less than a generation.

    "Never before have I been in a situation where the task involves restoring a culture at the same time as an ecosystem," Crisman said. "The scale of this is potentially mind-boggling."
     
  2. Lefty Wilbury
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    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/04/07/MN293104.DTL&type=science

    A dream of restoring Iraq's great marshes
    Wetlands destroyed by Hussein could thrive again

    Glen Martin, Chronicle Environment Writer Monday, April 7, 2003

    There could be an unexpected beneficiary of the war in Iraq: the environment.

    More specifically, the late, great Mesopotamian marshes -- a decade ago, the largest wetland by far in the Middle East, and a site considered by many religious scholars as the inspiration for the Garden of Eden in the Bible and Koran.

    Located at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers near Basra, this vast watery substrate sprawled over 20,000 square kilometers, providing sustenance and shelter for a wide array of wildlife. They were also home to 200,000 "ma'dan," or marsh Arabs, a group of hunters and fishermen who trace their habitation of the region back five millennia.

    The marsh Arabs lived in singular harmony with their watery environment, building elegant boats and elaborate houses out of reeds.

    But Hussein considered the swamps a haven for Shiite opponents of his regime. So in the mid-1990s, he drained the marshes, broadcast pesticides to kill the fish and wildlife, and attacked the villages of the ma'dan. Today, the once verdant network of reed beds and waterways is mostly a sere and lifeless plain.

    "It is just another example of the complete ruthlessness of the regime," said Azzam Alwash, an Iraqi exile and civil engineer. He is also a leading advocate for restoration of the marshes, and sits on the board of the Iraq Foundation, a nonprofit nongovernmental organization "working for democracy and human rights" in Iraq.

    "Everyone is harping about Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction," said Alwash, "but here he used water as a mass destruction weapon. He used it to destroy a culture that has lasted 5,000 years. And I'm afraid it has made me somewhat cynical that the international community stood by and did nothing while it was happening."

    The marshes were an integral part of the Iraqi culture and collective psyche, said Alwash, and their loss is an emotional blow that is hard for outsiders to understand.


    A TREMENDOUS CATASTROPHE
    Ecological scientists are in general accord with Alwash that the destruction of the marshes was a catastrophe of global significance.

    "By any measure, this was one of the most important wetland systems in the world," said Scott McCreary, a principal and co-founder of Concur Inc., an East Bay consulting group that specializes in developing consensus solutions to natural resource conflicts. "It was on par with other great mega-deltas such as the Yangtze and the Amazon."

    Concur convened a February conference on the marshes at UC Irvine. The attending scientists are expected to issue a paper on possible restoration strategies in the next few weeks.

    The paper could well become a blueprint of great significance. If U.S. and British forces win the war as expected, some conservationists say it could provide a remarkable opportunity -- the chance to restore the natural splendor of the Mesopotamian marshes. If successful, such a project could be the greatest single wetland restoration in the history of the world.

    "The end of the war could provide a genuine opportunity to do this," said Chris Lagan, the media director for The World Resources Institute. "It won't be easy. About 88 percent of the marsh has been depleted. There's a sense it will take a tremendous amount of effort, but it's not impossible."

    Michelle Stevens, a professor of environmental studies at Sacramento State University and the manager of the Iraq Foundation's Eden Again Project, which is dedicated to restoring the marshes, acknowledged that the scale of the vision is somewhat daunting.

    "It took 50 years to destroy 95 percent of the wetlands in California, but it took only about two years to obliterate the Mesopotamian marshes," Stevens said. "(Hussein) obliterated one of the biologically richest places on Earth, and destroyed a unique and ancient culture."

    In the short term, Stevens said, scientists must do two things.

    "First, we need to identify areas that are so toxic (from pesticides and salt accumulation) that it would be counterproductive to rehydrate them," she said.

    Those planning for the marshes' restoration must also grapple with the fact that there's less water available in Iraq than there was 10 years ago.

    "New hydro projects in Turkey, Syria and Iran have significantly reduced the flow down the Tigris and Euphrates," Stevens said, "and we're going to have to work with that."

    Scientists are working on hydrologic models that reflect the current water availability, but Stevens said it's clear there will be "enough water to do a major restoration of some kind, one that will be worthwhile."


    OTTERS, PELICANS, CATS, HERONS
    Sizable segments of marsh remain near the Iran-Iraq border, she said, "and we think they contain some of the charismatic fauna the region was known for --

    species like smooth-coated otters, Dalmatian pelicans, jungle cats, goliath herons and sacred ibis. With luck, we can re-establish them in restored areas."

    Alwash said the reduced flows of the Euphrates and Tigris complicate any restoration scenario, but he maintains much can be accomplished with the water at hand.

    "First, there is at least 45 billion cubic feet of recoverable water in the Tharthar Depression, a very large lake between the Euphrates and Tigris," said Alwash. "We can use that immediately to start rehydrating the marshes."

    The canals Hussein used to drain the marshes -- The Mother of Battles River,

    the Loyalty to the Leader Canal/Pipeline and the Third River -- can also be diverted to the marsh zone, Alwash said.

    "Finally, we can make Turkey a stakeholder in the new Iraq," said Alwash. "Turkey desperately needs hard capital and Iraq will need new power capacity to rebuild. Iraq can buy power from Turkey's hydro projects on the Tigris, and use the extra water that will be released downstream for marsh restoration."

    Pursuing these three strategies, Alwash said, "it should be possible to restore from one-half to two-thirds of the original marshes."

    Suzie Alwash, the director of the Eden Again project and Azzam Alwash's wife, said the configuration of the restoration should be determined primarily by those who once lived there -- the marsh Arabs.

    Since Hussein's initial persecutions, Alwash said, the ma'dan have been forced into a diaspora, some fleeing Iraq, others seeking anonymity in Basra and other Iraqi cities.


    MARSH ARABS IN SAN DIEGO
    "We're already working with a group of (marsh Arab) refugees in San Diego," said Alwash. "Ultimately we will have a stakeholders group that will tell us their priorities. The marsh can be managed in many different ways -- say for fisheries in one portion, migratory birds and other wildlife in another portion, and so on. The people who once called these marshes home will guide this."

    Pegging the restoration to the needs of local people will be the key to success, other scientists agree.

    The marshes were "a tremendous economic engine for the country," said Thomas L. Crisman, a professor of environmental engineering and the director of the Howard T. Odum Center for Wetlands at the University of Florida at Gainesville. "They not only supported the hundreds of thousands of people who lived there, but their fisheries provided much-needed protein to the populations of Basra and other cities."

    While the marshes were a stunning ecological jewel, a repository of rare and endangered animals, Crisman said the key to resurrecting them is to emphasize their economic importance.

    "The marshes were a critical component for the fisheries and water quality of the entire Persian Gulf," Crisman said. "Marshes act as filters and transport systems -- on one hand, turning contaminants into organic matter that fish, shrimp and other commercially important species can use, and on the other, dispersing that organic manner into surrounding aquatic systems."

    Otters and the rest of the wildlife, Crisman said, "are incredibly important, but you won't necessarily be able to sell them to the World Bank. The World Bank does understand robust commercial fisheries, however."

    The critical issue for restoration advocates, said Crisman, is to find the point where a revived marsh can be truly self-sustaining, from both the ecological and economic perspectives.

    "We need to determine just how much of a wetland restoration you need to get a cultural restoration," he said. "What scale is critical? Frankly, we don't know. Which is why we have to get things going on the ground as soon as possible."
     
  3. Lefty Wilbury
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    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0501_030501_arabmarshes.html

    Iraq's Eden: Reviving the Legendary Marshes

    Afshin Molavi
    for National Geographic News
    May 1, 2003


    Azzam Alwash, an Iraqi exile living in California, remembers the breathtaking beauty of Iraq's southern marshlands that he visited as a boy. He remembers the smiling hospitality of the Marsh Arab people, the quiet waterways where he floated on wooden boats, the beautiful cathedral-like homes constructed of reeds, and the swarms of colorful birds in the skies above.

    He promised his wife that they would one day visit the lush, biologically diverse, and historically rich region that lies between the lower reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

    Today, there's not much to visit. In 1991, shortly after the first Persian Gulf war ended, Saddam Hussein's government, angered by Marsh Arab participation in the southern uprising against his rule, launched an assault on the southern wetlands and the nearly 300,000 Marsh Arabs, known as Ma'adan, who call the region home. The assault included burning villages, summary executions and "disappearances," and a multi-year, sophisticated campaign of water diversion and marsh drainage that has reduced roughly 93 percent of the marshes to dry, salt-encrusted wasteland.

    Extensive damming by Turkey and Syria beginning in the 1950s in the upper Tigris-Euphrates river basin also negatively impacted the marshlands, but the majority of the destruction of the teeming Iraqi wetlands that are larger than Florida's Everglades began with Saddam Hussein's campaign.


    The Marsh Arab people live in homes constructed of reeds
    and use boats to navigate the waterways. Much of the marshland has been rapidly drained. The map shows the marshlands in green in 2002, while red outlines the former extent of marshlands in 2000.

    Human Rights Watch called the campaign "a crime against humanity." Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, president of an aid organization devoted to helping Iraq's Marsh Arabs, called it "the deliberate extinction of one of the oldest races in the world."

    In response to the horrific evidence of what he calls "the destructive sophistication" wielded by Hussein's engineers, Alwash, a civil engineer who earned his doctorate from the University of Southern California, and his wife Suzie, a geology professor at El Camino College, decided to do something about it.

    They began searching for any data they could find on river flows, previous wetland reclamations, the specifics of Saddam Hussein's drainage methods, even poring over dusty dissertations in the libraries at the University of California, Los Angeles. They also picked the brain of Alwash's father, an Iraqi irrigation engineer, who immigrated to the United States after the first Persian Gulf war.

    In 2002, they formed the Eden Again project, assembling a cast of international scientists, engineers, anthropologists, and hydrologists to develop a plan to restore the marshes.

    The group is "not seeking to do the restoration ourselves," said Suzie Alwash. "This must be done by the people of the region. We hope that our group can provide some scientific support and a forum for stakeholder discussions. It is critical that all stakeholders, especially the Marsh Arabs themselves, are intimately involved."

    The group issued its preliminary report April 29 in Washington, D.C.

    Garden of Eden

    The Mesopotamian Marshlands are an integral part of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin shared by Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Some Biblical scholars believe the region to be the site on which ancient stories of the Garden of Eden and the Great Flood are based. Up until a dozen years ago, the Ma'adan led a life characterized by fishing, farming, weaving, hunting, and grazing water buffalo, a life not entirely unrecognizable to their Babylonian and Sumerian ancestors 5,000 years ago.

    A report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2001 alerted the world that only about 7 percent of the once-extensive marshlands remained. Satellite evidence showed the wetland complex UNEP called "a biodiversity center of global importance," that had once covered an area of 5,800 to 7,700 square miles (15,000 to 20,000 square kilometers), had shrunk to a 386-square-mile (1,000-square-kilometer) marsh straddling the Iran-Iraq border.

    UNEP described it as one of the worst environmental disasters in history, ranking it with the desiccation of the Aral Sea and the deforestation of the Amazon rainforests. The marshlands are a breeding ground and stop-over point for migratory birds. The environmental degradation put an estimated 40 species of birds and untold species of fish at risk, and led to the extinction of at least seven species. Two other species—the Sacred Ibis and African Darter—are near extinction.

    Destruction of the wetlands was also devastating to agriculture and water quality, and many of the Marsh Arabs were forced to move to Iran or became internally displaced people in Iraq. In the long term, the drying of the marshes could contribute to climate change in the region.

    Eden Again

    The Eden Again report outlines preliminary plans for "at least partial restoration" of up to 1,500 square miles of marshlands territory.

    The team understands the daunting challenges that lie ahead.

    "If we can restore one-third of the marshlands, I would consider it a miraculous recovery," said Curtis Richardson, director of the Duke University Wetland Center and a veteran of Florida Everglades restoration projects.

    The problems are not simple, he warned, especially if there are high concentrations of salt and sulphate in the soil.

    "Salt-encrusted land simply cannot absorb new water and the mixture of water into high sulfate areas would be toxic," he said.

    The most promising candidate for restoration, scientists say, is the marsh that straddles the Iran-Iraq border east of the Tigris River, known as Hawr Al Hawizeh in Iraq and Al Azim in Iran. The Eden Again scientists call for the reintroduction of water to the Hawizeh marsh as soon as possible. Two other marshes—Al Hammar Marsh, south of the Euphrates River and the Central Marsh located between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers—will require significant soil testing for salt and sulphate before any reclamation work is attempted. Neither of the two marshes is expected to achieve significant restoration.

    Involving Stakeholders

    Recovery will also require delicate diplomacy involving governments, aid and relief groups, and the people of the marshes.

    UNEP is calling for a holistic river basin approach that involves all stakeholders, including the governments of Turkey, Syria, and Iran.

    The aid group headed by Baroness Nicholson, Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees, has been providing care to Ma'adan refugees in Iran and has assembled a team of Iraqi and international scientists and engineers to help with the wetland reclamation. The group is also calling on the United Nations to designate the Mesopotamian marshlands as a world heritage site, which would provide added protection and funding.

    "Our generation will be responsible for the deliberate extinction of one of the oldest people on Earth if we don't act fast," Nicholson said. "We certainly cannot allow this to happen."

    Azzam Alwash is doing his part. He plans to travel to Iraq with a team of scientists in two weeks. While the technical problems of wetlands reclamation and the political problems of dealing with a transitional government rising from the ashes of years of oppression and a war are high on his agenda, they are not the key.

    "This cannot work unless the process is led by the Marsh Arabs themselves," he said. "Eden Again will soon be a majority Iraqi Marsh Arab organization. They need to be the key stakeholders in this process."
     
  4. spillmind
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    not sure what these six month old articles are doing to make you feel better about iraq, but it's not doing much for me

    "This cannot work unless the process is led by the Marsh Arabs themselves," he said. "Eden Again will soon be a majority Iraqi Marsh Arab organization. They need to be the key stakeholders in this process." ...is an appropriate ending to these posts.

    next you are going to post something about the restoring the caves of afghanistan? :laugh:

    even better, to predict an anomaly here, i'm going to ask you where you stand on drilling the ANWR? (i'll reserve my guess for now) :D
     
  5. MtnBiker
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    Perhaps Spillmind believes the worlds oil should come from other countries , than rather we supply some of our own.
     
  6. Lefty Wilbury
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    Lefty Wilbury Active Member

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    these were just the first that i posted i'll post more recent ones including links to recent video of the marshes. as far as drilling here that's a GOOD thing for two reasons:

    1. we can drill for oil far cleaner then anywhere in the world. most arab country aren't "clean" when they drill they'll let the oil run into river,oceans etc etc etc somthing we don't do.

    2. better we get it here then be relient of forgein sources weather their russian or middle eastern.
     
  7. Lefty Wilbury
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    an article form a few weeks ago

    http://www.iraqfoundation.org/news/2003/joct/16_eden.html

    'A Gift From God' Renews a Village
    (October 16, 2003)


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/
    Saturday, October 11, 2003; Page A01
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Iraqi Engineers Revitalize Marshes That Hussein Had Drained

    ZAYAD, Iraq -- The surging water from the Euphrates River first quenched the desiccated soil around this village. Then, with a steady crescendo, it smothered farming tracts, inundated several homes and enveloped the landscape to the horizon.

    "Hamdulillah," intoned Salim Sherif Kerkush, the stout village sheik. Thank God.

    Thin reeds now sprout on the glassy surface. Aquatic birds build nests on tiny islands. And lanky young boys in flowing tunics spend the first few hours of each day as generations of adolescent males in their families have: gliding across the water in narrow wooden boats to collect fish trapped in homemade nets.

    "The water is our life," Kerkush said as he gazed at the marsh that now comes within a few feet of his house and stretches as far as the eye can see. "It is a gift from God to have it back."

    A dozen years after Saddam Hussein ordered the vast marshes of southeastern Iraq drained, transforming idyllic wetlands into a barren moonscape to eliminate a hiding place for Shiite Muslim political opponents, Iraqi engineers have turned on the spigot again.

    The flow is not what it once was -- new dams have weakened the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers that feed the marshes -- but the impact has been profound. As the blanket of water gradually expands, it is quickly nourishing plants, animals and a way of life for Marsh Arabs that Hussein had tried so assiduously to extinguish.

    In Zayad, a tiny hamlet about 210 miles southeast of Baghdad that was one of the first places to be flooded, residents have rushed to reclaim their traditions. Kerkush drove to the port city of Basra to buy a wooden boat known as a mashoof. His children assembled fish nets. Other relatives scoped out locations to build a house of reeds.

    The marsh has once again assumed its omnipresent role in the village. Women clad in black head-to-toe abayas wade into the water to wash clothes. The mullet found in the murky depths, though small and bony, is grilled for dinner every night. Swamp grasses are cut to feed the cows and sheep that will eventually be traded for water buffalo.

    "Everyone is so happy," Kerkush said as he watched his son stand in a mashoof and steer it like a gondolier with a long wooden pole. "We are starting to live like we used to, not the way Saddam wanted us to live."

    A Simple Life Destroyed

    Born in 1949, Kerkush remembers a childhood identical to those described by his father and his grandfather. It was, he believes, a way of life little changed since the days of the ancient Sumerians who lived near the marshes and were the first humans to practice irrigated farming.

    The progress of the 20th century -- the advent of cars and computers, of television and telephones -- did not penetrate the dense reed beds and narrow waterways that protected their village.

    "It was a very simple life," he recalled. "We would fish. We would collect the reeds. We would plant rice."

    They rarely ventured more than a few villages from home, and outsiders rarely ventured into the marshes. In hamlets such as Zayad, home to about 120 families, everyone is related and marriage among cousins is common.

    The marsh dwellers were largely unknown to the outside world, even to other Iraqis, until British explorer Wilfred Thesiger chronicled the seven years he spent with them in his 1964 book "The Marsh Arabs." The marshes, he wrote, were a place where one could encounter "stars reflected in dark water, the croakings of frogs, canoes coming home at evening, peace and continuity, the stillness of a world that never knew an engine."

    Although Hussein's government built dams along the Tigris and Euphrates in the 1970s, and paved roads through the wetlands in the 1980s to move supplies to the front lines during the eight-year war with Iran, the marshlands remained largely intact. In 1990, an estimated 300,000 people lived there.

    Everything changed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Shiite Muslims in the south rose up against Hussein's government. Some Shiite leaders, particularly those who sneaked into the country from Iran, hid in the marshes, which were out of the reach of Hussein's tanks and artillery. The Shiite leaders were welcomed -- and aided -- by the Shiite Marsh Arabs.

    Even after Hussein's army quashed the revolt by slaughtering thousands of Shiites and attacking their villages, the president was bent on retribution. He ordered the marshes drained.

    To subvert nature, he approved the construction of a massive network of canals, pipelines and dams. State-owned businesses and private firms were required to dispatch all their bulldozers to work on the projects. Sunnis from Hussein's strongholds in central Iraq, including Tikrit and Fallujah, were encouraged to travel south to help dig.

    The engineering feat was enormous -- and remarkably successful. The Euphrates, which spilled entirely into the southern half of the marshes, was diverted into a wide new canal called the Mother of All Battles River that stretched more than 100 miles around the former wetlands. Farther upstream, billions of gallons of Euphrates water was redirected in another canal and dumped into a depression in the desert.

    The same strategy was employed on the Tigris River, parching the northern and eastern sections of the marshes.

    Before Hussein's drainage project, Iraq's marshes were the Middle East's largest wetland, covering about 7,500 square miles. By the late 1990s, satellite images indicated that less than 10 percent of Iraq's marshland had any water. What remained was miles of parched, salty earth covered with clumps of scrub brush.

    With no way to fish or farm, no reeds or birds, legions of Marsh Arabs had no choice but to leave the only place they considered home. Tens of thousands fled as refugees to Iran. By 1993, the United Nations estimated there were only 50,000 marsh dwellers left, and their numbers continued to dwindle over the following years.

    In Zayad, the water level dropped as if someone had pulled a plug, residents said. Soon there was only mud. The reeds died. The birds flew away. The water buffalo had no place to roam.

    Unlike their neighbors, the people of Zayad opted to stick it out instead of moving. Hunger was rampant. Some were forced to sell their possessions for food. Reed homes fell into disrepair because there were no building materials. Instead, the villagers built mud-brick huts.

    "We went from having everything to having nothing," Kerkush said. "Our land turned to desert. How can anyone live in the desert?"

    Redirecting the River

    In mid-April, a few days after Hussein's government fell, Ali Shaheen returned to his job as director of the Irrigation Department in Nasiriyah. Located about 25 miles northwest of Zayad, Nasiriyah was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the war. But with the hostilities over and Shiites firmly in control of the local government, he decided to try to reverse the damage Hussein had wrought.

    With a U.S. military escort, he drove to Garmat Bani Hassan, a town a mile away from Zayad. There, he ordered creaky metal gates on the Euphrates to be cranked open for the first time since 1991.


    Shaheen, a short, balding civil engineer with a stubble-covered face, did the same thing with two other gates before embarking on a bigger engineering challenge -- redirecting the Euphrates. He requisitioned several Irrigation Department bulldozers and smashed the dam Hussein had constructed to divert water to the Mother of All Battles River. For good measure, he had Hussein's river blocked off with a mountain of dirt.

    He had no orders to redirect the rivers. There was no functioning Irrigation Ministry at the time. But he assumed he was doing what the Marsh Arabs wanted.

    "Drying the marshes was a crime," said Shaheen, who joined the Irrigation Department in 1998, after the canals and dams were built. "I felt I needed to do whatever I could to restore what Saddam destroyed."

    As the Euphrates returned to its original course, water surged toward Zayad and other villages on the western side of the marshes that are closest to the river's mouth. The arid flats were covered with more than three feet of water, swallowing the scrub brush and a few homes that were built after the marshes were dried.

    Shaheen calculated that more than 1 quadrillion gallons -- a 1 followed by 15 zeroes -- were needed to fill the Euphrates side of the marshes. But the flow at Nasiriyah, which had been 106,000 gallons per second before 1991, was down to 21,000 gallons per second because of new dams and irrigation canals built in Iraq, Syria and Turkey over the past decade. "The water we have is not enough," he said.

    By midsummer, the water's advance had slowed. Villages just a few miles east of Zayad are still dry, with residents wondering when they will be able to ride a mashoof again.

    If the flow does not increase, Shaheen predicted it will take more than 100 years to flood the marshes. "It's not an issue of opening the gates and dams over here," he said. "We need more water from upstream."

    Iraq's new minister of water resources, Latif Rashid, said increasing the flow will require Syria and Turkey to reduce their consumption. "We'd like our just share," he said. "They should respect our needs."

    Shaheen and other Iraqi water experts said they believe Hussein told Syria and Turkey to take as much water as they pleased -- a policy that many say now needs to be reversed. Compared to the mid-1980s, the volume of water flowing into Iraq through the Euphrates has fallen 50 percent, according to the Water Ministry.

    Rashid said he was shocked to see the extent of the destruction when he recently flew over the former marshlands with L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq. "It's hard to imagine how catastrophic it is," he said.

    He said he has set up a commission to develop a plan to restore the marshes in a way that ensures that new farms and villages are not flooded and that upstream demand does not deprive the wetlands of sustenance. But he warned that results would not come soon.

    "It's not a question of opening a dam or turning a knob," he said. "This is going to take a long time."

    Restoring Marsh Life

    Sitting atop a reed mat on his concrete porch, Kerkush said he dreams of once again building a mudheef -- a long, domed-roof structure made of tightly woven reeds that Marsh Arabs used to receive visitors. Clad in a crisp white tunic and a black-and-white head scarf, he would sit inside and entertain other sheiks with black coffee and tales of days past.

    "The mudheef was center of our social life," he said. "We didn't need television."

    Because of new roads and with his shop in a nearby trading town, outside influences have permeated the marshes faster than the water. He has heard of the Internet and would like to "bring it" to the village.

    "I'd like a mudheef and the Internet," he said with an optimistic gleam. "I don't want to live entirely in the past."

    When his son piloted his boat back to shore, Kerkush walked over to examine the morning's catch, just as his father did years ago. The metal bucket was half empty. The tiny mullet inside would be worth no more than 2,000 Iraqi dinars -- about $1 -- at the nearby market.

    It was not his son's fault, Kerkush said. "The marsh is not fully back to life," he said. "The fish have not had enough time to grow."

    The rest of the marsh is similarly nascent. The reeds are not yet sufficient to rebuild the huts destroyed by Hussein's army. The birds that have returned are not the right species to trap.

    But as the scion of a clan that has lived here for perhaps 5,000 years, Kerkush said he is willing to be patient while engineers and politicians figure out how to pump more water into the marshes.

    "Saddam did everything he could to kill us," he said. "You cannot recover from that right away."





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  8. spillmind
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    spillmind Member

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    the same people who push this environment crap are the very same people that push for drilling in alaska, and eventually off of our western coast.

    maybe you don't realise what ONE single accident can do to this environment. unlike a desert terrain, this is home to much more plant life and ocean and land animals. it's doesn't take a PhD in english (haha) or anything for that matter to see that the oil from the middle east is established, and i would be curious to see these 'projected environmental impacts' that you are proposing, on a side by side analysis.

    i'll guess again, and believe that you don't have any intention of conducting this kind of research, and that this whole article is some feel good news in the shadow of the everyday grim reality in iraq. i'll take good news, however- as it comes...

    though I think there are more important immediate concerns... this is a good thing.

    and mountain biker- ever been to whistler? i'm going up to the mountains this weekend for a super dope trail that my friend built... it's got some drops, and some fun hits/jumps... what do you ride?

    btw.... i am not so niave to assume we want all of our oil from other countries. i am a large proponent of an alternate energy source, something ZERO people commented on. coincidence? i think not.
     
  9. MtnBiker
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    MtnBiker Senior Member

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    Hey Spillmind, no I haven't been to Whister, sounds like a great ride. Hope you have fun this weekend. I ride a Cannondale V600, just and o.k. ride not excatly top of the line, but I still have fun on it, the season is pretty much done here. Will be snowshoeing soon.
    Alternative energy should always be looked at however our economy does depend on oil. Almost everything we consume comes by way of a big trucks. It would be very hard to delivery groceries in a hybred vehichile.
     
  10. spillmind
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    spillmind Member

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    i just bought a new santa cruz heckler (last year's frame) but with the 5th element shock. i have a double crown fox fork with 6 inches of travel. the season never ends here in cali :D i can mountain bike, surf all year, and drive to the snow in about 3 hours when it's up there.

    too bad such an awesome state is subject to the simple minds of the masses and we voted arnie in. talk about sensationalism.

    a hybrid big rig is not that far off the horizon. a little speculation and 25% of the war on iraq budget, and we'd be on to something great id the oil/car industry megacorps didn't detrimentally intervene.
     

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