30 Jun 2003
A remarkable project called Eden Again plans to fully restore what is believed to be the Biblical Garden of Eden. The Mesopotamian Marshlands in southern Iraq, also known as the fertile crescent, are without doubt a world heritage site. What makes this enormous project so remarkable is that it aims not only to turn these wetlands back to their former glory but also to make possible the return of its native Marsh Arabs by getting them to assist in the rebuilding of their homes and environment.
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A remarkable project called Eden Again plans to fully restore what isbelieved to be the Biblical Garden of Eden. The Mesopotamian Marshlandsin southern Iraq, also known as the fertile crescent, are without doubta world heritage site. What makes this enormous project so remarkableis that it aims not only to turn these wetlands back to their formerglory but also to make possible the return of its native Marsh Arabs bygetting them to assist in the rebuilding of their homes and environment.
Marsh Arabs’ boats in Abu Sholan in south Iraq. Photo: © Damir Sagolj / Reuters 2003
Inthe 1950s, Syria and Turkey built dams to divert their river watersupstream which caused the beginning of a decline for the wetlands.Then, in the 1990s, when the Shiite Muslims took refuge in the areaafter their failed uprising during the Gulf War, Saddam Husseinsystematically caused the wilful destruction of this vital paradise asrevenge against those who would topple his government. Building whatwas known as the Mother of all Wars’ Canal, he drained theseoutstanding freshwater marshlands causing not only the destruction ofvital fish spawning grounds and the disappearance of many rare speciesof birds and mammals, but also the collapse of Marsh Arab society.
MarshArabs, also known as the Mad’an, are a distinct 5,000 year oldcommunity who have inhabited this area since the dawn of civilisation.These peaceful marsh dwellers lived in reed huts suspended above thewater level on woven mats, moved around by boat, tended water buffalo,spearfished and harvested the reed beds in much the same way they hadalways done. It is estimated that out of a population of half amillion, at least 300,000 were killed during Saddam’s regime. Thoseleft are living in refugee camps in Iran, in exile in other countriesor displaced internally in other parts of Iraq.
Azzam Alwash,himself an Iraqi exile now living in the US, watched the devastationcaused to his homelands on TV. He quickly resolved to do something andwith his wife, Suzie, founded Eden Again. Sponsored by the IraqFoundation with funding from the US Department of State, an advisorycommittee have been gathered comprising a team of scientists,engineers, and wetland experts. The first step will be to deconstructSaddam’s canal and begin to rehydrate the parched landscape. Scientistscannot be sure how a re-flow of water will affect the ecology of thedecimated area but they all agree that nature is possibly the bestmedicine.
The project is an innovative idea that could set aprecedent for the treatment of refugees worldwide. Stuart Leiderman, aUS environmentalist, believes that Eden Again comes at a time whenthousands of new refugees are emerging and this reflects an urgent needfor better repatriation efforts. ‘The marshland project,’ he says,‘will be the first time in modern history where a whole bioregionalrestoration effort incorporates the memories, desires, sweat and toilof the refugees themselves in exchange for title to the communities andecosystems they restore.‘
FURTHER INFORMATION : The Iraq Foundation
WEB SITE : http://www.iraqfoundation.org
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