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This brought tears to my eyes. Great man whose effort is definitely worth more than a sum of cash. It's good to know that there are still people who care.
 

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Parks Beyond Borders: Pioneer Of Iraq’s First National Park Wins Global Environmental Award





Azzam Alwash enjoying an early morning trip on the marsh he helped save and that is about to become Iraq's National Park of the Marshes. Alwash worked closely with the local marsh Arabs to rejuvenate the ecosystem, which before its destruction, was the source of an entire indigenous lifestyle that included an amazing style of construction derived entirely from the reeds that grow in this rich wetland. Photos courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Submitted by Randy Johnson-T on April 15, 2013

The world’s largest prize for grassroots environmentalism has been awarded to Iraqi Azzam Alwash for the impending creation of Iraq’s first national park. The National Park of the Marshes, the largest marshland in Southern Asia, is set to be named later this month.

The startling fact is that this soon-to-be realized national park in the Mesopotamian Marshland had to be recreated from scratch after being completely destroyed by Saddam Hussein in the mid-1990s. The marsh’s Shiite Arab residents had staged uprisings following the Kuwait invasion and fled to the marshes for refuge.

Hussein burned and poisoned this precious ecosystem, creating dust bowls in a place once known as the Garden of Eden. The massive destruction drove out the descendants of ancient Sumerians who had inhabited the area for thousands of years.

Iraq’s Best Idea

Enter Azzam Alwash, winner of one of six 2013 Goldman Environmental Prizes. After fleeing Iraq when Hussein rose to power, Alwash earned advanced degrees and established a successful career as a civil engineer. He married an American woman and raised two daughters in an affluent Los Angeles suburb.

Alwash remembered the marshes from childhood visits, and when the Hussein regime fell, he left California in 2003 to return to Iraq. He founded Nature Iraq, an Iraq-based non-profit, and has succeeded in restoring the Mesopotamian marshes to 50 percent of their original size.

Besides restoring the marshes and the local way of life, the 54-year old Alwash has spearheaded the April 2013 release of the Key Biodiversity Areas Survey, an atlas of 300+ Iraqi biodiversity sites intended to guide preservation and ultimately establish an Iraqi system of national parks.

On one of a handful of visits this year to the United States, National Parks Traveler interviewed Alwash about his inspiring story, motivation, and the future of Iraq’s national parks.

NPT: How does it feel to be the father of Iraq’s national parks?

Alwash: I am not going to be so egotistical to claim it is me. I will tell you it takes a village, that it takes a team, this is the effort of the entire team of Nature Iraq, and a combination of the desires of the locals. Yes I was instrumental in convincing the locals it was in their interests, but it is not the work of a single man.

NPT: Were you aware of national parks before coming to the United States?

Alwash: No, no, no, I didn’t even understand that I was an environmental conservationist before I came to the US. Two weeks after I arrived in the US I saw Yosemite and I was in awe. My god, I was in love. I saw Yellowstone, Zion, and so many national parks in the United States that the idea of national parks has become second nature. With those experiences, I decided this was the one way of making sure that Iraq, somehow, comes up with a plan to conserve these marshes, not only for Iraqis but for the rest of the world.

NPT: Why not just designate a mountain range instead of restoring a destroyed ecosystem?

Alwash: That’s a question that would need weeks to answer. First of all I didn’t know it couldn’t be done. I thought it would take me two or 3 years, to get things on the right track and come back to the good life in California. I didn’t realize that this was a lifetime commitment, a multi-generational commitment.

I chose the marshes because of my deep personal connection to them as a young boy in the 60s and early 70s. I was living nearby with my family and my father was a district irrigation engineer. I have very warm memories of my time with my father in boats going around these marshes in the spring as the area awaits the annual flood. I have very vivid memories of these times because it was one of the few times that I had my father all for myself...

NPT: How ironic it is that so many similar experiences link fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, in the US—often in national parks.

Alwash: I had those same experiences with my own daughters—in the United States! I haven't visited the marshes yet with my daughters (they live in the US; he visits a handful of times a year)—but that will happen soon.

NPT: What is Nature Iraq?

Alwash: Nature Iraq is a not for profit corporation, an NGO. It is focused on the preservation of Iraq's environment and cultural heritage. And that’s not just in southern Iraq—but for example in the northern Iraqi mountains of Kurdistan (an ethnic area spanning Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq). Southern Iraq is a sedimentary plain. That means that the soil came from somewhere else, originating in the mountains of Kurdistan, borne in on the waters of the Tigrus and Euphrates. Few Iraqis understand that this organic connectivity between Southern Iraq and Kurdistan predates humanity.

NPT: Sounds like you have the makings of a cross-border national park.

Alwash: We have 25 million land mines along the border between Iraq and Iran, and I have plans for what I call a series of peace parks in those areas. Once we declare the National Park in the Marshes we have a series of ten places we want to focus on to create these new parks.

Instead of spending the money on clearing the mines, let’s declare it as national park, blaze trails for hiking and various activities—but keep the mines in place. I want to preserve nature and one unique aspect of having mined area in the mountains of Kurdistan is that people have left nature alone! Yes we have a few mines that go off every now and then, that kill a rabbit, but by and large, these mines have protected the mountains from development.

NPT: That puts a whole spin on environmental regulations—and “peace park” too!

Alwash: It may sound crazy (says, Alwash, breaking into laughter), but you have to think outside the box.

NPT: I can see the signs now—“Stay on the trail or you'll get blown up!” Speaking of fun in the sun, will Iraqis look to national parks for recreation?

Alwash: Southern Iraq is not a picnic area. People don’t go to the marshes to picnic. The tradition of picnicking or going out in the park is not something that is normal, at least not yet. I’m hoping the National Park in the Marshes will eventually become a site for ecotourism and that the marsh arabs will move from using the marshes for their livelihood to protecting the marshes as a new way to benefit from ecotourism.

On the other hand, in Northern Iraq, the tradition of picnicking is entrenched and woven into society. Every Friday and Saturday, people go out in the mountains, they picnic in the open air, barbecue, dance, and drink, all year, except when it’s too damn cold in the snow-covered mountains. (Editor’s note: There are of course countries where cold weather picnicking is a way of life)

In the north, I presume park usage will be totally different from the south—different park models. In the north I can see parks collecting fees for entrance and use of picnic areas. In the south we’re gonna have 40,000 oil workers working within 20 minutes of the marshes, so instead of flying off to Dubai for recreation, they can visit the marshes for birding or fishing...

NPT: Are there any environmental controversies lurking in Iraq’s future?

Alwash: Dams upstream will be a hindrance to the survival of the marshes, so we need to work on resolving water issues. If Iraq doesn’t address the salinity of water coming in from Turkey we will have a loss of agriculture in the land where it was born. Over the horizon, we will need to work with Turkey and Iran to resolve water issues before it becomes too big of a problem.

NPT: The marshes sound as dependent on the flow of water as the Everglades National Park in the United States.

Alwash: Yes. I have a few ideas that I can put forward, but we need to convert the discussion with Iraq and Turkey from “whose water is this” to “how can we change this to an economic question, how can Turkey make money for water, how can we in Iraq get water without paying for it." We need to start entertaining trade-offs to make an economic model that benefits all our countries.

NPT: There are many historical national parks in the United States, but having a park in “The Cradle of Western Civilization” seems pretty distinctive.

Alwash: Yes, indeed. There are seven historical sites in the marshes national park. On top of that, we have 25,000 archeological sites in the country. Iraq is the Cradle of Civilization—so, do the marshes belong to Iraq? I don’t think so. They belong to the entire world. That was where writing was invented. Where agriculture was invented. Where Abraham was born. Let’s call it the birthplace of Western civilization. It’s not only Iraq that needs to preserve this. I think it is the world that needs to help Iraq preserve these marshes.

###

The Goldman Prize was envisioned as a way to demonstrate the international nature of environmental problems, and reward ordinary individuals for outstanding grassroots environmental achievement. The first Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony took place in 1990 when winners received a $60,000 cash award with no strings attached (the award has since grown to $150,000). The prize has since become a global force of significant impact. In 2001, jailed environmental activist Rodolfo Montiel Flores (Mexico, 2000) was released, in part because Goldman Prize winners and jurors traveled to Mexico to demand his release. In 2003, Marina Silva (Brazil, 1996), a former rubber tapper, became Minister of the Environment in Brazil. In 2004, Goldman Prize recipient Wangari Maathai (Kenya, 1991) received the Nobel Peace Prize, the first environmentalist to win the prestigious prize.
 

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Last Update: Sunday, 26 May 2013 KSA 19:08 - GMT 16:08
Boat-building booms in Basra as Iraq marshes are restored
Sunday, 26 May 2013
The return of water to Iraq's southern marshes has revived the manufacturing of the fishing boat industry in the port city of Basra. (Reuters)


Reuters - Basra
The site of fisherman sailing on the Shatt al -Arab waterway had become a thing of the past.
But a recent revival of southern Iraq's marshlands is luring back fishermen and boat makers to the region.
The area was damned and drained by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s to flush out rebels following a Shi'ite uprising against his regime in 1991.
But the barren moonscape has once again become the scene of a rich ecosystem, with efforts underway to restore the fabled area, believed to be site of the biblical Garden of Eden.
As the marshlands thrive again, fishermen are taking to the waters. And among those who find themselves in demand are boat makers -- Dawood Salman is one of them.
“We stopped making boats in the 1990s when the marshes were drained, no one wanted boats any more. We completely abandoned the boat craft industry and resorted to other crafts. Some of us worked in construction, while others chose different crafts,” Salman said in his workshop.
“Now that the marshes are revived, we have started making small boats. It's an easy thing. There are fish, but not in large numbers.”
Basra once boasted one of the largest boat-making industries. But a shortage of raw materials and high prices of the vessels lead many craftsmen to abandon the industry.
But now, according to craftsmen here, new materials such as fiberglass, are being used to construct the vessels, making their work easier.
“Now, fiberglass makes it easy to make boats. So, instead of fitting each piece of wood, (we have) one-piece fiberglass --- you can finish most of the work in a day. The small boat now takes three to four days to be built while the wooden boat used to take ten days,” Salman said.
Most of Salman's customers are Marsh Arabs from nearby Nassirya city and Maysan province.
Despite the revival of boat-making, the industry is far from witnessing a boom. Older workers are retiring, and there are few youngsters willing to take over.
“Previously, the number of boat builders, in particular in Garmat Ali town, there were about 20 of them working in private workshops. Now there are two boat builders in this area, two others in Sahla town and one in the market area. There are only five builders left out of 20,” Salman added.
But for now locals are making the most of the newly-revived marshlands, and as well as improving the fortunes of the local inhabitants, Iraqis are hopeful the area will once again lure tourists to the region, with visitors coming to soak up the colorful scenery and vibrant ecosystem.
 

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عادت الحياة إلى الأهوار

طالما اعتبر البعض منطقة الأهوار الخصبة في العراق جنة عدن الحقيقية، ولكن هذه المنطقة تعرضت للتجفيف على يد صدام حسين.

والآن، يجري تطبيق برنامج ضخم لإعادة الحياة إلى المنطقة، وهو ما دفع فعلا إلى عودة الناس وأشكال من الحياة البرية إلى واحدة من أوسع المسطحات المائية من نوعها في العالم.

تمتد أمامي قناة تجري مياهها تحت عيدان القصب، هو ذاته الذي ينبت في المستنقعات بالقرب من منزلي في إنجلترا.

ولكن، على خلاف تلك العيدان النابتة بالقرب من منزلي، يتعدى طول الواحدة من هذه النباتات الفارعة الأمتار الأربعة. ها هي تبدو لي معانقة عنان السماء ونحن نتلمس طريقنا في الجادة الزلقة المغمورة بمياه آسنة تطوقها هذه العيدان المهيبة الشاهقة.

نشق عباب البحيرة على متن "مشحوف"، وهو زورق صغير يشيع استعماله في منطقة الأهوار للتنقل من مكان لآخر وجمع القصب.

أنا الآن في جنوب العراق، في أهوار ما بين النهرين، أو الأهوار الوسطى على وجه الدقة. إنها جنة للحياة الفطرية والموطن الأصلي للمعدان، عرب الأهوار.

أخذت لعدة أيام أستكشف هذه الجنة مع صديق لي اسمه "مظفر" وهو واحد من كبار دعاة حماية الطيور في العراق.

قائد المشحوف شاب نحيل القوام في الثامنة عشرة من عمره تقريبا اسمه عمر.

يتحرك عُمَر برشاقة في أرجاء القارب بقدميه الحافيتين بينما يُسبِل ثوبا فضفاضا وغترة ربطها بغير إحكام حول وجهه. إنه يمخر بالزورق بمهارة عبر الممرات النهرية الضيقة التي تحدها عيدان البوص يمنة ويسرة.

في بلادي انجلترا، لم أكن أسمع سوى الأخبار السيئة عن العراق، نادرا ما كنت أسمع خبرا جيدا في الإذاعة أو التلفزيون. ولكن هذه الزيارة منحتني الفرصة لأنعم ببعض الأحداث السعيدة.

فإحدى منظمات الحفاظ على الحياة البرية، التي يتولى مظفر فرع الطيور فيها، تنظم "المهرجان الأخضر" احتفالا بإعادة الحياة إلى واحدة من أروع المستنقعات في العالم. لم يكن لمنظمة كهذه أن تمنح مثل هذه الفرصة تحت حكم صدام.

تعود الحياة للأهوار مجددا بعد أن كانت قد جُففت لتفقد نحو عشرة بالمائة من مساحتها الأصلية في عهد صدام. وخلال الفعاليات التي يقيمها هؤلاء العرب الذين يتحلون بالشجاعة والوعي البيئي سيجري هدم السدود الضخمة وهو ما يعني تدفق المياه مجددا.

والآن، تم إعادة المياه لنحو نصف هذه المساحة الكبيرة. وبعثت الحياة البرية وعرب الأهوار من جديد بالمنطقة.

تحوم فوق رؤوسنا طيور الرفراف الرقطاء، تتحين الفرصة لاصطياد طعامها من الأسماك.

بإمكاني سماع غناء عصفور قصب البصرة المهدد بالانقراض بينما تُقلع محلقة من على صفحة الماء أربع بطات رخامية وهو نوع نادر على مستوى العالم.

وتتجمع حشود المشاركين في المهرجان على ضفتي نهر الفرات الذي يمثل جنبا إلى جنب توأمه دجلة شريان حياة الأهوار.

وفي المضيف، وهو عريش مبنيٌّ من القصب والبردي يستخدم كمجلس بلدية يجتمع فيه شيوخ عرب الأهوار، يبدأ الحفل بتلاوة آيات من القرآن، ويعقب هذا ترديد النشيد الوطني العراقي. وبعدها يأتي دور الكلمات ثم يعزف الأطفال الموسيقى ويلقي بعض الشعراء ما نظموه من قوافي.

وفي النهر، يجري أول سباق قوارب على الإطلاق في الأهوار. ستة مشاحيف، في كل منها فتاة ترتدي العباية، يجدفن بحماس لتظفر إحداهن بالمركز الأول.

تم إعداد مدرّج مغطى على إحدى ضفتي النهر ليجلس فيه المشايخ بحللهم المهيبة الكاملة، فيما احتشد الأطفال والشباب مرتدين بناطيل الجينز والقمصان. أحد الفتيان كان يرتدي قميص فريق تشيلسي مكتوب عليه من الظهر اسم "لامبرد".

سألت واحدا من المشجعين اسمه محمد إذا كان قد راهن على السباق؟ فأجابني بابتسامة عريضة ثم قال: ربما في السنة القادمة. هذا الحدث إذن سيعقد سنويا على الأرجح.

وعلى ضفاف نهر الفرات عقدت مجموعتان من الأطفال سباقا. ارتدى بعضهم زيا أزرق واختار المنافسون اللون الأخضر. كلا الفريقين حمل كيسا بلاستيكيا والفائز هو من يجمع أكبر كمية من القمامة.

وأمام الأطفال يمشي رجلان مقنعان يرتدي أحدهما بزة من الزجاجات البلاستيكية والآخر بزة من العلب الصفيحية، للإشارة إلى مشكلة النفايات التي تلوث مياه النهر.

ويتم كل هذا على خلفية تعرض أهمية الأهوار، التي تدخل مرحلة من الازدهار بعدما تعرضت لهذا التجفيف التخريبي.

وبعد هذا، تأتي أهم فقرات الحفل، حيث تصل الطرادة بمجاديفها التي يحركها ثلاثة من الشيوخ.

كان هذا الزورق الضخم ذي المقدمة الرشيقة أحد زوارق الحرب في الأهوار ويعتبر رمزا للعزة.

فبسبب عمليات التجفيف اختفت الطرادة تماما في منطقة الأهوار الزاخرة بنبات القصب بين النهرين. ولكنها عادت للمنطقة اليوم لأول مرة منذ أكثر من نصف قرن.

كانت هذه لحظة مفعمة بالمشاعر بالنسبة لصديقي مظفر، الذي عكف على دراسة الحياة البرية وثقافة هذه المستنقعات الشاسعة طيلة خمسة وعشرين عاما. قال إنه لم يتوقع أن يشهد دخول القارب مرة أخرى. كنت سعيدا لسعادته تلك.

في المرة التالية التي يتنامى فيها إلى أسماعي أنباء سيئة عن العراق سأتذكر هذا اليوم والشجاعة التي رأيتها في ملامح أولئك الناس وعشقهم لتراثهم.
لقد أرادوا فعلا إحداث فرق ولذلك فقد تمكنوا من أن يجعلوا إصلاح أشهر الأهوار في العالم.

bbc
 

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Galactico
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Draining the Garden of Eden




The Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq are recorded by some Biblical scholars as the Garden of Eden - the birthplace of mankind.

Saddam Hussein drained the country's wetlands in 1990s. The regime wanted to punish the indigenous Marsh Arab tribes who had risen against him in the aftermath of the first Gulf War and also deprive opposition forces of a base for operations.

A huge industrial programme, which involved building new canals to divert rivers into the Gulf, was carried out under the guise of creating more farming land.

The marshes once covered 15,000 sq km but were eventually reduced to about a tenth of their previous size. Restoration programmes since the 2003 invasion have seen large portions of the former marshland re-flooded.

But despite progress, the marshes remain sensitive to drought and the impact of upstream dams.





Marsh flooding brings new life to Iraq's 'Garden of Eden'



By Richard Porter- BBC- 2 June 2013

The lush marshes of Iraq are regarded by some as the original Garden of Eden, but they were drained and decimated by Saddam Hussein. Now a major restoration programme has seen people and wildlife return to one of the world's most famous wetlands.

Ahead of me stretches a channel through the reeds - Phragmites reeds that grow in the marshes near my home in England.

But unlike those at home, these are over 4m tall and seem to reach the sky above me as we gently glide through the avenue of still water they majestically flank.

We are punting in a Mashoof, the common small canoe of the marshes used for centuries for transportation and the collection of reeds.

I am in southern Iraq, in the Marshes of Mesopotamia - the Central Marshes to be precise. It is a paradise for wildlife and home of the Ma'dan, the Marsh Arabs.

For a few days I have been exploring this wetland paradise with my good friend Mudhafar, one of Iraq's top bird conservationists.

Our puntsman, Omar, is a lanky youth of about 18. Wearing a long, flowing thawb and loosely tied head scarf, he moves nimbly around the boat in bare feet to manoeuvre us through the narrow, reed-fringed passages.

Whenever I turn on the radio or TV in UK the news coming out of Iraq is rarely good but my visit was to help celebrate a happy event.

A wildlife conservation organisation, of which Mudhafar is the bird man, and which would not have been allowed under the tight control of Saddam, is holding a Green Festival to celebrate the restoration of one of the world's great wetlands.

Drained to less than 10% of their former size under Saddam's regime, these vast marshes are coming to life again. Through the actions of environmentally-conscious and brave Arabs, the huge embankments have been breached, allowing the water to flow back.

Now at least half have been successfully re-flooded. The wildlife and Marsh Arabs have returned.

Overhead a Pied Kingfisher hovers, searching for fish. In the reeds I can hear the song of the endangered Basra Reed Warbler, while on the water a group of birds takes off - four globally-threatened Marbled Ducks.

Along the banks of the Euphrates, that together with the Tigris is the lifeblood of the marshes, throngs are gathering. The festival is underway.

First in the mudheif - a cathedral-like building made of reeds - the town hall of the Marsh Arab sheiks, there is a reading from the Koran followed by the Iraq National Anthem, then come the speeches, music by children and poetry readings.

On the river, the first boat race ever held in the marshes is underway: six Meshoofs, each with a single woman rower wearing a black Abaya, battle for first place.

There were loud cheers from the crowd, which was more than 1,000-strong as the winner crossed the line.

A covered grandstand had been erected on the river bank and here sat sheiks in their full regalia, whilst at the edges noisy children in jeans and T-shirts gathered - one young boy wearing a Chelsea shirt with Lampard written across the back.

I asked one of the spectators, Mohammed, if he had bet on the race. He grinned widely and said "probably next year" - so perhaps it will become an annual event.

Along the Euphrates bank raced several groups of children - some dressed in blue, others in green - and each carrying a plastic bin liner. This was a competition to see who could collect the most rubbish.

Ahead of them walked two masked men - one wearing a suit of plastic bottles, the other a suit of tin cans - to symbolise the rubbish problem and its effect on water pollution.

All of this is against a background of displays about the importance of the marshes, which are now well on the way to recovery following such devastating drainage.

Then the highlight of the day: the arrival along the river of the Tarada, powered by the oars of three sheikhs.

This large canoe with a graceful pointed prow was the war vessel of the marshes - an iconic symbol of pride.

With their draining it disappeared from the reed beds of Mesopotamia. Today was the first time a Tarada had been seen in the marshes for over half a century.

For my friend Mudhafar, who has been studying the wildlife and culture of these vast wetlands for 25 years, it was clearly an emotional moment. He never thought he would see this boat again and I was glad to share his emotions with him.

Next time I hear bad news about Iraq I will remember this day and the courage of the people who love their heritage.

They really wanted to make a difference and so made possible the rehabilitation of these wild reed beds - these world famous wetlands.

Photos


The mudheif, a town hall constructed from reeds, was used for a reading of the Koran


Iraq's plentiful wetlands were decimated in the 1990s by Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War


A Green Festival was attended by locals to celebrate marsh restoration, including a man dressed in bottles to highlight the issue of pollution


Teams of children competed in an organised litter-picking competition along the edge of the water


Women took part in a race using traditional boats known as Mashoofs as a large crowd looked on
 

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Resting Platypus
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Great news from my uncle Azzam :)

Item 4 on the report.....
Iraq approves the Central Marshes National Park... over 6 years of hard work has given fruit finally. Thanks to MoWR, MoE, and to the team of Nature Iraq. I am ecstatic today. Onwards. Now we get the National Parks in KRG going. We have to protect 17% of the land mass of Irq before 2020. We all have to work together to do it. It is possible--- with determination...Congrats to Iraq..
http://www.cabinet.iq/ArticleShow.aspx?ID=3406
 

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dreams of Babylon rising
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what about the oil and gas fields? national parks will screw things up.
 

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علي مولا
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Build a Green belt around the refineries? With increased water Iraq should really look to plant trees other than palm using irrigation or council gardeners.

How close are the oil fields to the marshes/ rivers anyways??
 

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dreams of Babylon rising
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its not just the fields... also the PIPELINES...
 

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علي مولا
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underground mass pipeline system, less heat from sun and less exposure to terrorists?
 

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Garden of Eden to become Iraqi national park

31 July 2013 by Fred Pearce
Magazine issue 2928. Subscribe and save
THE "Garden of Eden" has been saved, even as chaos grows all around. Last week, amid a wave of bombings on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq's Council of Ministers found time to approve the creation of the country's first national park – the centrepiece of a remarkable restoration of the Mesopotamian marshes in the south of the country.

This vast wetland of reed beds and waterways, home of the Ma'dan Marsh Arabs, is widely held to be the home of the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, the paradise where Adam and Eve were created and from which they were subsequently expelled.

After the Gulf war in 1991, Iraq's president, Saddam Hussain, used *****, sluices and diversions to cut off the country's two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. This drained 93 per cent of the marshes, largely obliterating the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East.

The purpose was to expel the rebellious Ma'dan, but in the end, it sped Saddam's downfall in 2003. Invading US tanks were able to drive north over the desert he had created and enter Baghdad far more easily. The Ma'dan later returned and broke the *****. Water returned to some areas, as did the reed beds that sustained the birdlife and water buffalo.

Conservationists have been amazed that, despite the disappearance for many years of most of the marsh, every species survived. All 278 recorded bird species remain, including the endemic Basra reed warbler and Iraq babbler. "They had hung on in small spots. When the water spread again, so did the birds," says Richard Porter of Birdlife International. "It shows how resilient nature can be, and gives hope that other lost wetlands can be restored."

But it's not quite paradise regained. "While some patches returned, others did not," says Mudhafar Salim, chief ornithologist for Nature Iraq, the NGO that led the campaign for the park's creation.

The main issue now is the hydro-politics of the region. Syria, Turkey and Iran, Iraq's upstream neighbours, are increasingly restricting the flows of the Tigris and Euphrates. In response, Nature Iraq has persuaded the Iraqi government to construct an embankment to enable water flow in the Euphrates to be diverted onto the marshes in spring, recreating the strong "pulse" of water that is essential to its ecological cycles. Last year, 76 per cent of the potentially restorable marshland flooded.

"Declaring a park isn't just a bit of paper," says Nature Iraq's founder, engineer Azzam Alwash. "It will mean we can reserve a percentage of the water from the rivers for the marshes."

Salim adds: "Having a stable share of the water should allow the number of birds and other creatures to reach levels even greater than in the 1970s."

But in the long run, the marshes can only be protected if there is an international agreement on water-sharing, Alwash says. And managing the park itself will require money. He hopes tourists will pay, though they are unlikely to be flooding in just yet.
 

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New Iraqi National Park May Be a Game Changer
Posted by Lara Sorokanich in Water Currents on July 31, 2013


Iraq decreed its first official national park last week, after years of planning and bargaining within its governmental council. The new title will help protect the central marshes of Iraq, which are currently threatened by the country’s increasing urbanization and development.

One integral part of the legislation’s passing was Nature Iraq, an environmental group whose founder and president Azzam Alwash was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize earlier this year for his work in Iraq’s marshlands. The group played a key role in developing the park’s management plans—along with the Ministries of Water Resources and Environment and the National Park Committee—and has also worked for several years to reflood the area’s drained marshes.

Alwash is the founder and president of the Board of Directors of Nature Iraq, and says the naming of a national park means a lot more for Iraq than just the recreational uses we associate with parks in the United States and Europe.

For one, the park will protect Iraqi marshlands, which Alwash calls “the cradle of civilization.” Noting that Iraq is believed to be the birthplace of agriculture, writing, monotheism, the wheel, and countless other human developments, he said:

“Preservation of this park means preservation of our link to our forefathers. Everyone in the world, in the West and the Middle East, are descended from this land.”

Alwash, who was born in Iraq and educated in the United States, also believes this recent legislation is a step in the right direction for Iraq’s environmental future as a whole. He explained that Iraq is home to some of the planet’s most diverse landscapes, which are now endangered by the region’s progression into modernity.

For thousands of years, he said, Iraq has been inhabited by humans who lived in harmony with the land. But now the building of infrastructure, roads, and water systems is threatening Iraq’s natural habitats, and could potentially ruin the ecosystems if proper regulation is not put in place.

“I don’t want this country to make the same mistakes that were made in the U.S. in the name of progress,” Alwash said. “I want progress, but I don’t want development to overtake the Iraqi tradition of living in harmony with nature.”





Indeed, in just the past century, Iraq’s land has endured a lot of abuse—in the 1990s the newly protected marshlands were drained and burned by Saddam Hussein. Alwash says that he is also seeing increasing encroachment of settlements into nature.

“I see areas that have been the same way for thousands of years being obstructed by roads,” he said. “Development is encroaching into the wildlife’s area and taking away habitats.”

For Alwash, the establishment of this national park, then, is just one step toward a system of parks, which he hopes to see established in Iraq in the future. Next year, he says, he and his colleagues are hoping to establish four more parks throughout the country: in the mountains, the deserts, and the wetlands alike.

“This park is not a destination,” he explained. “It’s just a piece in the roadway to protecting Iraq’s national and natural heritage.”

In the meantime, Alwash says he’s proud of the progress that has gone on so far. He calls it “an incredible accomplishment” for himself, something he’s dreamed of since he returned to Iraq from the United States in 2003.

“In the scheme of the global movement, [this park] is really nothing,” he said. “But for Iraq, the fact that we are willing to dedicate a portion of our land for nature is a wonderful step.”

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/31/new-iraqi-national-park-may-be-a-game-changer/
 
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