Thirty years ago, Iraq’s Mesopotamian Marshes were referred to by biblical scholars as the Garden of Eden. Fed by the iconic Tigris and Euphrates rivers, for more than 7,000 years this enormous marshland of over 6,000 square miles (twice the size of the Everglades National Park) provided a bountiful home for both wildlife and humans. A large population of indigenous people, the Ma’dan Tribes known as Marsh Arabs, had thrived there for centuries. But in the political conflicts of the 1990s, Saddam Hussein attempted to eradicate them by destroying the marshes on which they depended for survival. The canals and embankments that both diverted the river water away from and prevented it from entering the area caused the marshes to shrink to less than 10% of its original size, transforming the remainder into a parched, lifeless desert; forcing the wildlife and the people to leave.
We are happy to write that the story doesn’t end there. Azzam Alwash, an engineer raised on the banks of the Euphrates who left Iraq for America during the war, returned to undertake one of the largest habitat recreation projects in the world. Filmmakers David Johnson and Stephen Foote follow Azzam, chronicling his efforts to restore the verdant ecosystem he remembers from his childhood in spite of the dangers of the politically volatile region.
With the assisted efforts of people like Dr. Alwash both people and wildlife are returning to their previous homes in the Mesopotamian Marshes, including the endemic but endangered Basra Reed Warbler pictured in the slideshow above.
The film has been aired on BBC in the UK and on PBS “Nature” in the US. Living in India we do not have access to the film on the PBS website, but we certainly will be following the story!