The Environmental Crime of the Century
Saddams crimes are countless but one of the biggest among them is the destruction of the land of the Cradle of Civilization and the historic life of its people (see my first article below).
The Mesopotamian marshlands are the largest wetlands in the Middle East, covering over 7500 square miles - an area larger than the Florida Everglades.
The marshy land around the area where Euphrates meets Tigris in the Southern of Iraq remained a safe heaven not only for the man but also for so many other species like birds, fishes, wild pigs, buffalos, reeds, rushes, papyrus, nice water lilies and many other water life. It is among the most important areas for migration of up to 70 species of birds and offers support for some threatened species.
Since the beginning of history the people who have lived there remained self sufficient;
they use reed, palm dates leaf, rushes and papyrus to construct their houses.
A group of houses form a small village in the middle of the marsh (Hawr in Arabic). Each one of these houses or a couple of them stands on a peace of land surrounded by water. Initially you will be astonished how these small beautiful Islands formed, but soon you will discover that they are actually an artificial islands created by the people from reed and clay.
There is beautiful area called Chibaiesh sited between Fohood and Qorna. Chibaiesh means the floating ports or the floating lands. The innovation of floating ports first came from the Sumerians to park their cargo ships there.
These artificial islands housed both, the families and their livestock including the water buffalos and cows. They use fishes and birds as their main food. They produce wheat flower, dates, milk, cheese, cream, honey dates and so many others. They don't waste things e.g. if the fishing season is good they will dry fishes and store it for some other time. They recycle every thing possible even the excreta of their animals like cows and buffalos to use it in making fires for different purposes including cooking and heating. They also export the surplus of their products to other parts of Iraq.
The unique culture of marsh Iraqis has remained the same for more than 5000 years. Many of the habits, names, tools, transport, and other things are the same as those which were used at the time of Sumer 5000 years ago. For example the storage place for grains called (Sedana) which is a round barrel produced from clay with a cover from clay or palm dates leaf is still being used. Another example is the Mashhof which is the Sumerian name for their little Taxi the small boat.
Wilfred Thesiger a British Geographer and writer who lived with the people there in 1950s and again 1970s wrote a very nice book about them. I think he stayed for 2 or 3 years in the marshes, if I am right. Many other archeologist and writers produced unique studies about the area.
The collective features of the marshes of Iraq make it a very rich region for tourist purposes. I am sure many around the world who love history, nature, and adventure will enjoy coming to see that nice piece of earth. Its extremely quiet nights, dazzling stars and clear sky make one feel closer to the heaven than to the earth.
This land has been destroyed by Saddam starting in 1980s. Syria and Turkey have their share in the destruction since 1950 due to their dams but their role is less compared to the deliberative act of Saddam after 1990.
What happened to the Land of First Civilization?
In March 2003 The United Nations Environment Programmers Division of Early Warning and Assessment showed that 93% of the Mesopotamia Marshes had disappeared and only contain a handful of the species that once made the area home. The marshlands that once acted like a giant water-treatment system that released clean water to the Arabian Gulf are now nearly 20,000 square kilometers of desert.
After the 1990 uprising against Saddam, he diverted the water from the marshes by producing many major canals and dams, dedicating huge resources to this destruction and despite the overwhelmed economy at the time. This resulted in a massive population collapse from up to 450,000 to less than 10,000 in the marshes. They were driven to other parts of Iraq and Iran or killed by the regime leaving thousands of years of history behind them. The result is a catastrophe to the people, animals and plants.
Many people who love nature and history have called for the restoration of the marshes of Mesopotamia. Plans are in place to revive this beautiful region; this is not an easy task and faces very complicated scientific and political challenges especially with Syria and Turkey to allow the water flow. I am not specialized in this subject but I love this land so much for its beauty and history.
Interesting articles about the subject:
1. Nice Pictures
2. Modern Sumerians
3. New hope for Iraqi marshes
4. TED Case studies
5. Assault on the marshes
6. Back to Eden
7. Iraqs Eden: reviving the legendary marshes