(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Marshland livelihoods again under threat

[Iraq] Water is returning to some of the former marshes.

Low water levels in Iraq’s two main rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, are threatening efforts to revive marshlands near the southern city of Nassiriyah, two local officials warned on 9 March.

“Since last year we have been facing a problem in reviving the Nassiriyah marshlands due to lack of rain,” Abdul-Kadhum Malik, the mayor of Chibaiesh town, said. He blamed Turkey and Iran for diverting water from the two rivers and exacerbating the situation.

“A few years ago, the marshlands were green and full of reeds and papyrus but now they are almost dry and if the situation continues like this all life in the marshlands will quickly die out,” Malik told IRIN.

Dozens of Nassiriyah marshland families have had to move out of the area because they cannot find enough water and fodder for their buffalos and cattle, he said, adding that accurate figures on the number of displaced would be available “in a few days”.

“We call upon the Iraqi prime minister, the water resources minister and the UN to send fact-finding missions to Nassiryah marshlands to come up with solutions,” he said.

Osama Witwit, head of the Reviving Marshlands Centre in Nassiriyah, said despite millions of dollars having been spent on reviving the marshlands since 2003, the reduced water levels had taken their toll on livelihoods.

“The marshlands are getting about 42 cubic metres of water a second, down from March 2007 when they were getting about 250 cubic metres a second,” Witwit said.

Nassiriyah is the capital of Dhi Qar Province, about 400km south of Baghdad. The province has over half the country’s marshlands.

After the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein devastated Iraq’s marshlands by diverting the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates away from the marshes in retaliation for a failed Shia uprising.

The wetlands turned into desert, forcing some 300,000 inhabitants out. Since 2003, efforts to restore the marshes had gradually revived the area, but these efforts are now in jeopardy.


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