During ’90s, Saddam drained one of the most beautiful environmental gems in Iraq to get back at the Marsh Arabs who opposed him. The marshlands occupy and area that’s bigger than the Everglades, but they were reduced by 90 percent. Originally, millions lived in the marshland and the area also produced a lot of Iraq’s food: a majority of the rice, 60 percent of the fish and 40 percent of the milk.

In fact, right before the Iraq War in 2003, Human Rights Watch said this:

Large-scale government drainage projects have virtually wiped out the Marsh Arab economy and, along with severe repression, forced the displacement of at least 100,000 of the Marsh Arabs inside Iraq. More than 40,000 others fled as refugees to Iran. “The Marsh Arabs have suffered some of the worst repression in a highly repressive political system,� said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. “In the event of war, there is reason to fear that the marshes area will again be a battleground, with devastating consequences for those who remain.�

But then, as we know, everything changed.

Earlier this year, Duke News reported on the Iraq marshlands and the progress happening there:

“This environmental disaster has been compared in scale to the drying up of the Aral Sea in Central Asia and to the deforestation of the Amazon,” their report added. The Aral Sea, once the fourth biggest inland water body, is now mostly desert as a result of water diversions.

However, the authors also wrote that the remaining marshland could serve as a source for revitalization of the marsh ecology. “The high quality of water, the existing soil conditions and the presence of stocks of native species in some regions indicate that the restoration potential for a significant portion of the Mesopotamian marshes is high,” said the report.

“The stakes are also high since the future of the 5,000-year-old Marsh Arab culture and the economic stability of large portions of southern Iraq are dependent on the success of this restoration effort,” the report continued. The Marsh Arabs had been persecuted by Saddam.

And some good news in April from the Eden Again Project.

Janabi expects some four million Iraqis to benefit economically from the eventual rehabilitation of the Mesopotamian marshes, in productive areas like fishing, agriculture, tourism and education.

�When we started, there was a big vacuum of data because information (about the condition of the marshes) had been declared a state secret� by the Hussein regime, explained Azzam Alwash, director of the U.S.-based Eden Again Project, which has led the charge to rejuvenate the marshes.

Alwash’s work has focused on creating a hydrologic model to determine how much water will be needed to restore various parts of the marshlands. Initial results suggest that enough water is present in southern Iraq to at least partially restore the marshes, if the water diversion structures built in the 1990s are removed.

BBC also reported on this story today.

Original reporting inspired by a report heard on NPR.

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