Marshlands in Iraq must be managed in a manner that balances the various benefits derived from the ecosystems, including food and clean water for the country’s people, as well as climate control, according to a United Nations report released today.
Since the 1970s, more than 90 per cent of the original Iraqi Marshlands area has been desiccated through the combined actions of upstream damming and systematic draining. As a result, by 2000, the only remaining marsh was a portion of Al-Hawizeh on the southern border with Iran, according to the report, entitled Managing Change in the Marshlands: Iraq’s Critical Challenge.
In the 1990s, much of the settlements and livelihoods of the Marsh Arabs were destroyed in organized attacks against the Marsh communities, forcing the majority of people to leave. An estimated more than 75,000 Marsh Arabs fled to Iran, with around 100,000 others settling elsewhere in Iraq, according to the report, which calls for the development of a “national vision” for the management and governance of the Marshlands.
The Marshlands area is subject to a range of pressures, including upstream water management, climate change, competition over land and resources, economic development and key demographic trends, according to the report prepared by the UN Integrated Water Task Force, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), within the context of the first four-year UN Development Assistance Framework for Iraq.
Water quality in the Marshlands is poor and generally not safe for human consumption in many areas. It is also less suitable for agriculture and other economic uses, the report points out. The loss of permanent natural habitat and the diversity of life has degraded the overall health of the Marshlands ecosystems and diminished their capacity to support Iraqis.
“The ability to mobilize governance to manage these pressures will ultimately determine the future development of the Marshlands. Addressing these drivers of change will require devising a policy framework that enables action at different levels and groups of actors,” the report points out.
Policy decisions will have to address trade-offs among current uses of the Marshlands and between current and future uses, according to the document.
It points out that important trade-offs involve those between agricultural production and water quality, land use and biodiversity, development of oil industry water use and aquatic biodiversity, and current water use for irrigation and future agricultural production.
“Sustainable development of the Marshlands requires striking a balance between development at the national and local levels, including a just compromise between competing interests,” the report notes.