The marshes of southern Iraq have lost most of its area, described by environmentalists as a "disaster" because of its negative impact on the population and local economy, which relies on marshes and its resources.
This year, Iraq's marshes are "facing the worst drought since they were flooded again in 2003," said Jassim al-Asadi, an environmentalist.
He told KirkukNow that in previous years, including 2009, 2015 and 2018, several waves of drought covered the marshes, but this year it has increased, especially in the Marshes of Haweza in Maysan province, Hamar Gharbi and Middle Marshes in Dhi Qar province.
"The water area in the marshes now is estimated at 550 kilometers out of 5,560 kilometers, which is the target set by the marshes rehabilitation center at the Ministry of Water Resources in 2005," said Asadi, who runs an office for local non-governmental organizations.
Laith al-Obaidi, an environmental researcher, affirms currently the area of water in the Marshes is less than 10%.
The former Iraqi government, led by Saddam Hussein, in an organized process dried up the marshes, on the grounds of using them as hiding places for fighters of the opposition groups, evacuated large areas from its residents and turned it into military and no-man zones. But after the fall of the government in 2003, water was restored to the marshes.
The collapse of the "water economy"
The decline in water levels in the rivers has affected the residents of the area, as some of them earn their living by cutting reeds, selling them and making household items.
Jawad's mother, who left the southern marshes due to drought, lives in a random area of Nahrawan, around southern Baghdad, in order to guarantee access to water resources and a suitable environment for raising cattle.
Sabriya, known as Jawad's mother, wears traditional black clothes and is in her 60s. She makes cream from cow's milk and sells it at one of Baghdad’s squares.
Residents of the marshes have suffered "heavy" damage and some have been forced to migrate to other areas in order to obtain water resources, when they lost their livelihoods, according to Al-Obaidi.
Raising buffaloes is no longer profitable
The process of raising cattle especially buffalos by the marshes has become a burden because there is no green pasture and a ton of fodder has increased from 300,000 Iraqi dinars IQD (USD200) to 800,000 IQD, Al-Asadi said.
He added that some cattle breeders are forced to buy drinking water due to the decline in water sources, which has caused the level of salt and pollution in the waters of the marshes to six thousand per million, which causes illness for cattle.
As a result of the problems, fresh milk production has also declined, from about six liters per cow to less than three liters.
"All these factors have caused the price of a buffalo to drop from 3.5 million dinars to less than 2 million dinars," Al-Asadi said.
More than 700 buffalos have died due to drought in Dhi Qar province
According to the Iraqi Nature Organization, there are about 27,000 buffaloes in the central forests near Jabaish district.
"So far, more than 700 buffalos have died due to drought in the province of Dhi Qar," Abbas Salim Hussein, director general of livestock told the semi-official Iraqi News Agency INA.
Al-Obaidi also emphasized the same figures, believing that the actual number may be higher, as there are no accurate statistics about the number of animals that have suffered from diseases as a result of drought, high salinity and pollution.
95% of fish resources have been lost
"Fishermen cannot catch any fish because Iraq's rural areas have lost 95% of their fish compared to 2019. Only small fish remain that can withstand salt, yet make no money for fishermen," Al-Assad said.
He explained that biodiversity is also facing "threat", water dogs suffer from decreased water area and environment, the situation is the same for some species of migratory birds.
Marshes to leave World Heritage List?
Iraq's Marshes are on the World Heritage List because of their biological diversity and the presence of different organisms on the Red List or endangered species.
On July 17, 2016, the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) unanimously decided to include Iraq's Marshes on the World Heritage List.
Jassim al-Asadi says the marshes are under threat of being removed from UNESCO list due to drought as in previous years, a number of sites and monuments in some countries were removed from the list, but "it doesn't matter.”
"It is not important for the people of the region to include or remove the marshes in the World Heritage List as much as they are fighting to protect their livelihoods and livestock," he said.
Three reasons for disasters
The reasons for the drought and falling water levels, Assad believes, are related to the policies of neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran, both of which are building dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and the Iraqi government has failed to put pressure on these countries.
Al-Assad criticized the poor management of water resources in southern Iraq, because the beginning of the drought since summer of 2021, but the authorities in those areas are "like ostriches put their heads in the sand," as if nothing happened.
Water Resources Minister Mahdi Rashid Hamdani said in a statement in late August that Iraq is suffering from climate change and the destruction of water resources due to the lack of agreement between them and the countries that source Iraq's rivers.
Regarding the efforts of his ministry, he said that they constantly ask the countries of the Tigris and Euphrates water sources to participate equally in the increase and decrease of water levels, working to adapt to climate change and take necessary measures.
Environmental expert Al-Asadi says what is happening in the marshes is a "real disaster", while environmental researcher Al-Obaidi describes it as an "environmental disaster" that passes quietly, without anyone caring and trying to mitigate its impact.