From: Arwa Aburawa, Green Prophet
Published June 1, 2011 01:00 PM

"The Garden of Eden Had Been Turned Into The Ashes of Hell"- Azzam Alwash On The Destruction Of The Marshlands of Iraq

Travelling through the Mesopotamian Marshlands of Iraq on a boat with his father, Azzam Alwash felt he had glimpsed a garden of Eden- a land of abundance, peace and natural beauty. "In my childs' mind eyes, the reeds were like forests with 'trees' extending to the sky and pathways made of small canals in which our boat floated. Every now and then we came to an open space through which air blew, cooling us down," he recalls. "The sounds of frogs were all around us and the water was so clean you could see the fish scramming away from our boat. Birds would fill the sky when we disturbed them."

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Whilst Alwash's memories of the time he spent as a young boy with his father in the marshes stayed with him, the marshes faced a rather brutal fate. In reprisal to the Marsh Arabs support of an uprising against the Saddam regime, in the 1980s the marshlands were drained of their water and life withered away.

Alwash was lucky enough to escape the turmoil of Iraq under Saddam to America where he trained as a hydraulic engineer, yet those early memories of the Marshlands never left him and when he returned 25 years later, he vowed to help restore that Garden of Eden. In 2004, he setup Nature Iraq, the country's first and only environmental organisation with the aim of restoring the Marshlands- a task many believed would be impossible.

Stretching over 6,000 square miles, the Iraqi Marshland have played an important role in global ecosystems by supporting rare wildlife and rich biodiversity for over 7,000 years. The marshlands were home to birds such as the night heron, pied kingfisher, little grebes and marbled ducks as well animals such as wild boars, water buffaloes, foxes, otters and water snakes. It was a veritable verdant paradise of water and life in the middle of desert in which Marsh Arabs lived in reed huts and hunted in wooden boats.

The United Nations environmental program described Saddam's destruction of the Mesopotamian Marshlands as the worst engineered environmental disaster of the last century. Thousands of Marsh Arabs were killed, their reed huts were burnt down and water sources were poisoned to drive them out until half a million of Marsh Arabs were displaced either into Iran or North Iraq. Once considered to be the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East, the Marshlands shrunk to just 10 percent of their original size.

Article continues: http://www.greenprophet.com/2011/05/iraq-marshes-azzam-alwash-1/

Image credit: http://www.jyi.org/news/nb.php?id=3638

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