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The Garden of Eden

Information about the organizational /environmental setting of the area:
The Mesopotamian marshlands (the biblical Garden of Eden) located in the Southern Iraq and Iran (earlier Mesopotamia) is one of the largest river systems in the southwest Asia . With interconnected lakes, canals, mudflats, and wetlands between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, this system once covered an area of nearly 9,000 km2 round the year and spread to 20,000 km2 during the spring snowmelt. Ma’dan tribes (Marsh Arbas) live here and their population was estimated around 400,000 to 500,000 in 1950s .

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Current concerns or issues
The degradation of these Mesopotamian marshlands began in 1950s with the draining of marshlands from the central Euphrates region into the desert. Later, with the ‘Age of dams’ more than 30 large dams built upstream including those in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, and several others under construction / planned, reduced the water flow into the marshes. Most of the marshlands were desiccated during Saddam Hussein’s rule, when he completed the main outfall drain project and constructed a chain of canals and embankments for agricultural projects and oil exploration.


By 2002, the marshland area had shrunk to just 1,300 km2 , and the rest of the area became a salt-crusted desert. With the loss of habitat , the region’s famed biodiversity was devastated. The smooth-coated otter, bandicoot rat, long-fingered bat, and African darter bird are thought to have become extinct. The marshes no longer served as ‘kidneys’ for waters flowing into the Gulf thus affecting Persian Gulf fisheries. The spawning ground for migratory fish and shrimp species was lost. Population of Ma’dan tribes declined , with people moving out.

 

Education Intervention
When UNEP reported this case in 2001 (The Mesopotamian Marshlands: Demise of an Ecosystem), a group of Iraqi expatriates, started the Eden Again Project for restoring the marshlands. The restoration plan moved rapidly when Saddam Hussein’s regime fell in 2003. The Center for Restoration of the Iraqi Marshlands was created; New Eden Project between the Italian and Iraqi governments began developing a master plan for sustainable development of the marshlands; Nature Iraq founded in 2004 started providing consultation to the Iraqi government and local residents. The Hawizeh Marsh, the only remaining permanent marsh, was declared a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 2007 and a detailed management plan was drawn in 2008.

 

Accomplishments/ outcomes post-intervention
Most important development was people’s initiative. Without waiting for experts and planners, people, soon as Saddam Husain’s regime fell, began breaking the embankments he had built, and reflooded the marshes. With 60% of the marshes filled with water in just two years, vegetation, reeds in particular sprang back to life. Fish, frogs, birds, even the rare marbled teal, Iraq babbler, and Basra reed warbler returned. The Marsh Arabs began to return as well; their estimated population in 2005 was 60,000.The central marshes have made a speedy recovery, and a National Park is planned there with the purposes of ecosystem restoration, education and research, and ecotourism. Some marshes are progressing slowly and some remain as ‘saltwater desert’ due to high soil salinity or impermeable surface. It is estimated that about 30% of the marshlands have a realistic potential for complete restoration.


Limited understanding of the marshlands which led to the demise of the Mesopotamian marshlands is now on the way to recovery armed with better information and education which the people, the government, the NGOs and the international experts are using, to come together to save one of the great ‘cradles of civilization’.


Aichi Biodiversity Target Addressed


Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
By 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced

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The Garden of Eden