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THE "EDEN AGAIN" PROJECT:
A Project Sponsored by the Iraq Foundation
The Iraq Foundation sponsored the creation of the Eden Again project in 2003. Eden Again works for the restoration of the southern marshes which were the target of a campaign by the Iraqi government in the early to mid nineties. The environmental and military campaign desiccated the marshlands, destroyed the environment, burnt villages, and drove hundreds of thousands of the indigenous ma'dan population into external exile or internal displacement. This project continues as part of Nature Iraq and Eden Again, and remains significant for its human, environmental and historical impact.
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THE "EDEN AGAIN" PROJECT:
RESTORATION OF THE MESOPOTAMIAN MARSHLANDS
The Mesopotamian Marshlands, historically covering over 20,000 square kilometers of interconnected lakes, mudflats, and wetlands within modern-day Iraq and Iran, have disappeared. In what the United Nations has declared "one of the world's greatest environmental disasters," over 90% of the marshlands have been desiccated through the combined actions of upstream damming and downstream drainage projects undertaken by the regime of Saddam Hussein.
BACKGROUND ON THE MARSHLANDS
The extensive marshlands of Mesopotamia represent a unique component of our global heritage and resources (UNEP, 2001). They play a key role in the intercontinental flyway of migratory birds, support endangered species, and sustain fisheries of the Persian Gulf. Biblical scholars regard the marshes as the site of the legendary "Garden of Eden." Historically they nurtured the culture and civilization of the Sumerians who produced the first alphabet and the earliest epics.
The current marsh-dwellers, the Ma'dan, are our only link with this rich cultural past. Following the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the Ma'dan were important elements in the uprising against Saddam Hussein's regime and the marshes offered a safe haven for the resistance. To end the rebellion and punish the freedom fighters, the regime implemented an extensive system of drainage and water diversion structures that have resulted in the almost complete desiccation of the marshes. This has resulted in (UNEP, 2001):
- destruction of a 5,000 year old cultural heritage that represents the modern world's link to the roots of its civilization
- extinction of several endemic animal and botanical species that depended on the habitat of the marshes;
- disappearance of the way-station for migratory birds, with adverse effects potentially spanning the continents of Eurasia and Africa;
- saltwater intrusion into the Shatt al-Arab, causing disruption of fisheries in the Persian Gulf;
- higher soil salinity in the marshes and adjacent areas, depriving Iraq of much needed agricultural land
- considerable disruption to the agricultural and food supply of the whole of southern Iraq, especially in the loss of dairy products, fish, and rice cultivation;
- desertification of more than 20,000 square kilometers, and adverse indirect climatic impacts to adjacent land, and
- displacement of the Ma'dan population of over 300,000, forced to flee the marshes and become refugees in Iran or internally displaced in Iraq.
THE IRAQ FOUNDATION PROJECT
The Iraq Foundation, with funding by the U.S. Department of State, undertook a project to determine a viable method of restoring the Mesopotamian Marshlands in 2003. The EDEN AGAIN project included development of a hydrologic model of the marshes to determine the quantity of water necessary to restore various areas of the marshlands. Initial results suggest that enough water is present in southern Iraq to partially restore the marshlands, if the water diversion structures constructed by the regime of Saddam Hussein are removed. Additionally, the project analyzed remote sensing data to define habitat types within the marshlands and their extent and distribution in the past. These data was used to prioritize specific areas of the marshlands for a phased restoration and to determine the desired water coverage and habitat type within each area. A stakeholders meetings with expatriate Ma'dan (the indigenous people of the marshland) continue to assess the needs of indigenous people returning to the marshlands so that these needs can be incorporated in the plan. The study also evaluates the anticipated challenges to restoration and determine solutions to problems such as high salinity, an aging seed bank, the need to emplace upstream and downstream hydraulic connections, and how to re-introduce a flood pulse. Since 2003, IF and our partners have produced real results, resulting in a framework restoration plan that establishes a vision of the wetland restored in its entirety, with more detailed plans for the areas prioritized for the initial phase of restoration.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Additional technical information on the status of the Mesopotamian Marshlands can be found in the United Nations Environmental Program report at http://www.grid.unep.ch/activities/sustainable/tigris/marshlands/.
For project information and more, please visit the Eden Again and Nature Iraq websites.
For more information on the EDEN AGAIN project, you can contact the project director, Dr. Suzie Alwash, at firstname.lastname@example.org.