We first learned about Nature Iraq’s conservation in a combat zone in 2010. Back then Iraq’s only conservation NGO seemed to receive little ministerial support; three years later and the Council of Ministries has approved the group’s push to protect the Mesopotamian Marshlands as the country’s first national park.
This really is a huge victory for conservation.
Once the third largest wetland in the world, according to ENS, the central marshes of Iraq were systematically drained during Saddam Hussein’s reign and nearly 100 percent of the land was usurped by development projects.
In addition to ruining an incredibly unique ecosystem, the devastation of the historical marshlands took everything and everyone along for the ride: the people, wildlife, culture, tradition, plants.
“They were a vital resource for regional fisheries, reeds, and other natural resources; the home of the indigenous Ma’dan Marsh Arab culture, which is directly linked to ancient Sumeria; and a globally important area for large numbers of migrant and wintering birds, and the native habitat of endemic birds and other valuable wildlife,” writes ENS.
Nature Iraq has worked diligently to save this magical place. One of Green Prophet’s official heroes, the group has overcome a myriad of economic, social and political speed bumps in order to achieve this landmark designation for a region that holds many secrets about a special part of Iraqi history and society.
But it wasn’t easy, and the enormous task took a toll on its founder’s personal life, director of Nature Iraq Azzam Alwash told Green Prophet in an earlier interview.
“Nature Iraq has had a huge tax on me personally and professionally, regardless of the recognition that it has gotten over the years. It is my ardent desire to see my children enjoy the marshes as I did, but that is not enough to explain my personal motivation… I suppose in a sense the impossibility of the task is what motivates me.”
Not impossible at all, it seems. While irrevocably changed, the marshes are slowly starting to spring back to life, mostly thanks to the concerted activism spurred by Alwash’s leadership, and funds will eventually be directed to their continued restoration.
“In 2002/03 people were saying that the marshes cannot be restored, nor do the people of the marshes want them restored yet the evidence on the ground countered those claims and 8 years later we have the marshes back (albeit only 50% of the marshes) and some 100,000 people have come back,” said Alwash.
Meanwhile, Alwash expressed concern about Turkey’s Ilisu Dam project and other transboundary water issues that currently threaten the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, ENS reports.