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Design Under Sky discusses landscape architecture, the utilitarian but leaning towards the conceptual, thinking on modern occurrences and peripheral boundaries.  

DUS is the blog and personal design studio of Adam E. Anderson, a designer based out of the East Coast, currently a Critic at the Rhode Island School of Design, and a designer at Landworks Studio.

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Ecological Warfare Restoration

Southeastern Iraq, an arid region where the Tigris meets Euphrates is seeing a reemergence of ecologically vital marshlands destroyed by Saddam Hussein with the intention of ridding its inhabitants.

Once covering 9,000 square Km, the Marshlands of Mesopotamia were damned and drained by Suddam during the 1980-1988 war with Iran in an effort to destroy the ecosystem of the Marsh Arabs, or Ma’dan, whom he accused of treachery and rebellion.

Heirs to ancient Sumerians and Babylonians, the Ma’dan, once half a million strong, were well-adapted to the habitat. They built floating islands, houses, and boats with mud and reeds and survived by fishing, hunting, and herding water buffalo , inhabiting the marshlands for over 5,000 years. Thought by some scholars to be the inspiration for the Biblical Garden of Eden, the wetlands vast biodiversity has sustained its people which show a case for the importance of symbiotic ties between environment and culture. A connection well known by Suddam, he used this knowledge to commence ecological warfare, displacing tens of thousands.


Dwindling down to only 760 square km in the early 2000’s, locals began destroying the damns after the fall of Suddam. The United Nations joined in with a 14 million dollar restoration project, which has restored up to 50% of the wetlands. A rather significant success and a model for future ecological restoration projects whether from man-made or natural disaster destruction.

Restoring the region's native ecology has been an important part of rebuilding Iraq, and newly released satellite photos reveal that much of the environmental damage can be repaired. But can the recovery of the land spur the recovery of a people? At a time when more and more people are fleeing uninhabitable landscapes, what becomes of the Marsh Arabs will reveal how the health of an environment affects the success of the society that calls it home.

Reader Comments (3)

Interesting article but somewhat unclear. What of the marshes today, are they returning, is the dam still in place, how about mosquito problems, how about some satellites from today? Could be a great story but you need a lot more detail and better graphs.
October 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam White
Thanks for the comment William. You are right, this is a fascinating story, but my intention was to merely emphasize the connection between land and people, and not dive to deep into the political and scientific information that the topic necessitates.

That being said, as it states in the story as of 2006 satellite imagery show a 50% recovery and the damn had been destroyed by locals shortly after the fall of Suddam.

But the survival of the wetlands is by no means guaranteed. The fires changed the soil chemistry, and, in some places, the now claylike earth is unsuitable for supporting plant life. The restored land is patchy and unconnected, making the survival of native plants and animals more difficult. Some species have returned to the wetlands, but the biodiversity remains reduced.

Thanks for Reading,

October 14, 2008 | Registered CommenterAdam E. Anderson
That dam photograph is from "ATATÜRK BARAJI (Atatürk Water dam)" in Turkey. It has nothing to do with Iraq !
February 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdorukhan

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