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Saving The Garden Of Eden

September 5, 2008

The United Nations initiated a plan on Friday to have an ancient wetland located in southeast Iraq listed as a World Heritage Site.

This geographic location is thought by some to be biblical Garden of Eden. The U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) said the marshlands were culturally important and had been almost entirely drained during Saddam Hussein’s rule in the 1990′s.

“Because of what Saddam did, the marshlands were in danger of completely disappearing, as was the centuries-old culture of the Marsh Arabs,” Iraqi Environment Minister Nermeen Othman said. “It had become an ecological but also a human tragedy.”

The wetlands, teaming with wildlife, covered 9,000 square km in the early 1970s but have decreased to just 760 square km by 2002. Experts said then that the marshes could vanish entirely within five years unless pressing action was taken.

The marshlands, fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, provide resources for Gulf fisheries and are home to the Sacred Ibis, a rare type of bird. These wetlands also provide homes for thousands of wildfowl migrating between Siberia and Africa.

The Marsh Arabs lived there for thousands of years but during Saddam’s regime during 1980-1988 were accused of treachery with Iran and ordered the wetlands to be dammed and drained.

After Saddam was removed from power, locals wrecked several of the dams and let the water rush back in. A $14 million UNEP restoration project encouraged the homecoming of thousands of birds and fish.

“They provide a blueprint for the restoration of the many other damaged, degraded and economically-important wetland ecosystems across the world,” says UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

UNEP is now also designing a venture to try to re-establish the surrounding areas of Mali’s Lake Faguibine. The lake originally covered 590 square km in the 1970s but had dried up by 2006.

UNEP says the earliest that Iraq could sensibly put its case to the World Heritage Committee is 2010. If their plans are approved, the Marshlands of Mesopotamia could be listed as a World Heritage Site the subsequent year.

Image Caption: The Sacred Ibis makes it’s home in Iraq’a declinging marshlands. Courtesy Wikipedia

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