"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Southern Iraq's once-lush marshlands - devastated by Saddam Hussein - are showing signs of rebirth: Plants are growing, former residents are returning, and hunting and fishing are reviving.
A new U.N. report, released Wednesday in Tokyo, sums up the progress, saying satellite imagery shows the marshes have regained 40 percent of their once-vast reach....
The largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East and Western Eurasia, the marshlands provide a crucial route for migratory birds, support endangered species, sustain freshwater fisheries and support the marine ecosystem of the Persian Gulf.
Saddam drained much of the Mesopotamian waters between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the 1990s - building dams, dikes and canals to pull away the water - in an apparent punishment because the marsh inhabitants supported a Shiite rebellion after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Even more dams were built in neighboring Turkey, disrupting natural water cycles that helped nourish the wetlands.
Of the almost 3,600 square miles of marshes in 1970, the area shrank by 90 percent to 300 square miles in 2002. As recently as 2001, some experts forecast the marshlands would disappear by 2008.
Instead, the new satellite imagery shows a rapid increase in water and vegetation cover in just the past three years, with the marshes rebounding to about 37 percent of their 1970 reach, the United Nations Environmental Program said Wednesday.
This is without a doubt a wonderful thing. Of all the crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the Hussein regime, his destruction of the Mesopotamian wetlands had the potential to be the worst, in terms of the permanence and extent of the cultural (i.e., the obliteration of the "marsh Arab" society) and environmental harm done. It is important to note that the reversal of this damage has been accomplished almost entirely by native Iraqis, with little assistance from outsiders. Good thing, too, since it appears that international aid for the recovery is becoming a casualty of the stillborn efforts to draft an Iraqi constitution:
A donors conference to coordinate the revival of southern Iraq's once-lush marshlands has been canceled because of the ongoing stalemate in Baghdad over the country's constitution.
The summit had been scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Tokyo but was postponed after Iraqi Environment Minister Nermin Othman was needed at home for constitutional negotiations, said Robert Bisset, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program.
A new date and location have not been decided. Japan, which called off the meeting in consultation with UNEP, may offer to host a rescheduled event but must first discuss the matter with Iraq, the U.N. and other donors, Foreign Ministry official Yoshiko Nagayama said.
The United Nations had hoped the conference would raise more money for restoration and coordinate projects by Japan, the United States, Canada and Italy. The delay follows a UNEP announcement Wednesday that the marshlands have made a rapid recovery since being nearly decimated under the regime of Saddam Hussein.