From: Dale Gavlak, Associated Press
Published November 10, 2005 12:00 AM

U.N., Donors Pledge Greater Cooperation To Restore Iraq's Marshlands

AMMAN, Jordan — The United Nations and donor countries agreed to boost efforts to recover Iraq's fabled marshlands from devastation, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program said Wednesday.


The agreement was reached between the Iraqi government and several donor countries, including the United States, Canada, Italy and Japan, to "put a mechanism in place and to develop a strategic plan for coordinating activities in the marshlands," Robert Bisset told The Associated Press after a donors conference on the future of Iraq's southern marshlands held in France Monday.


The regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein drained much of the Mesopotamian waters between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the 1990s to punish marsh inhabitants who supported a Shiite rebellion after the 1991 Gulf War.


Of the almost 3,600 square miles of marshes in 1970, the area shrank by 90 percent to 300 square miles by 2002. As recently as 2001, some experts forecast the marshlands would disappear by 2008.


New satellite imagery now shows a rapid increase in water and vegetation cover, with the marshes rebounding to about 37 percent of their 1970 reach.


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Bisset said the one-day meeting in Paris agreed to "put a mechanism in place and to develop a strategic plan for coordinating activities in the marshlands."


One of the first projects to help reverse the environmental damage to the marshlands inflicted during Saddam's rule has seen the U.N. environment program install water cleaning and sanitation equipment to bring clean water to 20,000 Iraqis in six districts.


The U.S. Agency for International Development is trying to restore agriculture in the area, while the Italian government is working to reverse the growth of the region's desert following the marsh drainage.


Considered by some as the original biblical "Garden of Eden," Iraq's fabled marshlands all but vanished after more than a decade of decline. But in August, UNEP reported that nearly 40 percent of the area recovered to their former 1970s extent.


Source: Associated Press


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