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UN calls for urgent action to preserve 'Garden of Eden' in southern Iraq

UN calls for urgent action to preserve 'Garden of Eden' in southern Iraq

Issuing a strong warning about the disappearance of marshlands in southern Iraq, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today said post-war rehabilitation efforts should take special account of people and wildlife in the area.

The Marshlands of Mesopotamia in Iraq – the “fertile crescent” – are considered by some to be the Biblical location of the Garden of Eden. According to UNEP, of the scarce marshlands remaining, one third have disappeared in the past two years. The situation threatens many species such as the Sacred Ibis and African darter as well as the culture of the marsh Arabs, who are the 5,000 year-old heirs of the Babylonians and Sumerians.

Recent studies supported by UNEP indicate that from the early 1970s to 2000, 90 per cent of the marshlands, also home to rare and unique species and a spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, had disappeared. Since 2000, a further 325 square kilometers have dried out, leaving just 7 per cent of the original area.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer called the situation "an environmental catastrophe," and voiced hope that when hostilities in Iraq end, the rehabilitation of the country will include a full assessment and action plan to restore the marshes.