Heritage plan for Iraqi marshes

A043504812.jpgThe United Nations has launched an initiative to have the marshlands of southern Iraq listed as a world heritage site.

The ancient wetlands, believed by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden, were drained and virtually destroyed by Saddam Hussein’s government.

But more than half of the area has been restored in a UN project over the past four years.

The Iraqi Environment Minister Narmin Othman welcomed the plans.

She said the marshlands and centuries-old culture of the Marsh Arabs had been in danger of disappearing in an ecological and human tragedy.

Crucial habitat

The United Nations Environment Programme, Unep, said the soonest Iraq could realistically put its case to the World Heritage Committee was 2010.

If approved, the marshlands could be listed the following year.

Fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Iraqi marshlands are spawning grounds for Gulf fisheries and home to rare bird species like the Sacred Ibis.

They also provide a resting ground for thousands of wildfowl migrating between Siberia and Africa.

The Marsh Arabs have lived there for thousands of years but Saddam accused them of treachery during the 1980-1988 war with Iran and ordered their homeland to be dammed and drained.

Wetlands that covered 9,000 square km (3,475 square miles) in the early 1970s dwindled to just 760 square km (293 square miles) by 2002.


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