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.