July 30, 2009

Once fertile Iraq becoming a desert

Iraq is on the brink of an environmental catastrophe thanks to decades of war, mismanagement and drought, environmentalists say.

Near daily dust storms, and shriveling riverbeds and marshes are turning arable land into desert, killing trees and plants, and transforming what was once the region's most fertile soil into an agricultural wasteland, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

We're talking about something that's making the breadbasket of Iraq look like the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century, said Adam Silverman, a social scientist with the U.S. military who served south of Baghdad in 2008.

The Iraqi Agriculture Ministry estimates 90 percent of the land is either desert or suffering from severe desertification, and that the remaining arable land is being eroded at the rate of 5 percent annually.

Decreasing agricultural production means that Iraq, once a food exporter, will have to import nearly 80 percent of its food this year, the Times said.

The lack of available water is a huge issue and it's having a huge effect on Iraqi society, said Silverman, now a social science adviser for strategic communications with the Army's Human Terrain System, a program linking social scientists and anthropologists with combat brigades. He said he was not speaking for the military.