Mesopotamia’s swamps are disappearing, again

Mesopotamia’s swamps are disappearing, again

From the beginning of last summer to the end of October, more than 2,000 families were forced to leave their homes due to the retreat of the marshes, according to FAO’s El-Hajj Hassan. Some of the displaced have moved to marsh areas that still have water, while others have abandoned their traditional way of life and moved to cities such as Basra or Baghdad.

Tensions between those who remain in the marshes are on the rise, and security consultants believe that water shortages, and specifically the disappearance of the marshes, could affect national security. According to Eimear Hennessy, former risk analyst at G4S Consulting, “The thousands of people who have been uprooted and impoverished by the ongoing crisis in the Mesopotamian swamps are likely to be more susceptible to recruitment by non-state actors”: militias and terrorists. . groups—”who make promises of an attractive future.”

According to Nature Iraq, the recent drying of the marshes has led to a collapse in wildlife diversity, with populations of binni, a golden-brown fish prized by marsh Arabs, plummeting. “Two thousand officially registered fishermen have lost their source of income and are now jobless,” Saleh Hadi, the Dhi Qar agriculture directorate, said in October.

Before the drought, the marbled teal duck, listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, appeared to be thriving in the marshes, as did the endangered Basra reed warbler and native babbler. from Iraq. But with falling water levels, Nature Iraq said, these birds are seen much less frequently.

Cattle are also suffering. The water buffaloes, which graze in the rivers, now have a hard time finding clean water and enough food; thousands have died due to disease and malnutrition. “Lower water levels are having a devastating impact on buffalo herders,” said Samah Hadid, a spokeswoman for the NRC. “The buffalo farmers we are talking to are getting more and more desperate.”

like perspective worsens for communities in Iraq’s marshlands, NGOs are promoting actions that could reduce the impact of the drought, including investing in water filtration and treatment systems for areas with high levels of salinization. They are pressing the Iraqi authorities, at the national and regional levels, to collect more data on water flows and the impacts of scarcity, and to improve regulation of aquifers to prevent overpumping, which decreases the quantity and quality of water. underground water.

The Iraqi government is providing salt-tolerant wheat to some farmers; breeders are working on drought tolerant sugar beets; and academics advocate for programs that offer conflict management training to communities struggling to equitably share water resources.

For years, Iraq has been negotiating with its upstream neighbors to allow more water to flow across its border, but the situation has not improved. In January 2022, Iraq announced that it would sue Iran in the International Court of Justice for cutting off its access to water, but the case has not progressed. Last July, Iraq asked Turkey to increase the amount of water flowing south into Iraq. Both sides agreed that an Iraqi “technical delegation” would visit Turkey to assess the water levels behind the Turkish dams, but Turkey did not accept responsibility for Iraq’s water shortages. Instead, Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Ali Riza Güney, accused Iraqis of “wasting” their water resources and called on the nation to reduce water waste and modernize its irrigation systems.

The new year is expected to bring below-average rainfall to the region, according to the UN World Food Program and FAO. With the impacts of climate change worsening and no foreseeable improvement in water management, the outlook for Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes and the communities that depend on them looks bleak.

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