Iraq’s marshes face three threats

The Middle East’s most important wetlands, Iraq’s southern marshes, are under threat again, the BBC reports. Partially drained by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s to drive out so-called Marsh Arabs who opposed his rule, the wetlands are shrinking again because of drought, intensive dam construction and irrigation schemes upstream on the Tigris, Euphrates and other rivers.


For some 6,000 years, the unique marshes ecosystem has sustained vibrant and diverse wildlife. After Saddam, the Iraqi dictator, was overthrown in 2003, the Marsh Arab population returned and the wetlands revived. Now, the people are leaving as the marshes dry again.


The most immediate cause is low rainfall — and below-average rainfall is expected over the rest of the winter. The spring snowmelt, in March and April, is critical because it feeds the marshes, according to Hassan Partow of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


But even if rain and snowfall were above normal, dams and irrigation schemes have choked off much of the water supply. Azzam Alwash, director of Nature Iraq said: “The natural flow system is not going to return until and unless the dams outside Iraq are actively managed” as part of coordinated management of the Tigris and Euphrates. The water cycle, he said, has been disrupted by dams built in Iraq, Syria and, chiefly, Turkey.


Additionally, climate change is beginning to dry up parts of the resilient marshes. The evidence of worse drying to come “is quite strong”, said Partow, “and the government of Iraq needs to seriously begin developing contingency and adaptation plans to deal with climate change”.


See full story