‘Don’t be afraid of the swamps’: The fight to save Iraq’s waterways | Climate crisis

Abu Abbas lived in Iraq’s swamps all his life, so he knew more about Iraq’s swamps than most.

So when former dictator Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government drained southern Iraq’s wetlands in the early 1990s, Abu Abbas witnessed the devastation firsthand.

Ten years later, after the fall of President Saddam Hussein, when young men with pickaxes and small water pumps began demolishing the embankments that had kept water out of the former swamp, he feared that the water would once again flow into the swamp. He was one of the people who observed it.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing since then. Wetlands are suffering as a result of climate change and mismanagement. Still, Abu Abbas remains optimistic.

Early last year, as he lay in bed with failing health, he was visited by his nephew Jassim al-Assadi.

“What is the situation in the swamp?” asked Abu Abbas.

“The situation is dire,” Jasim replied.

Before Jassim could continue, Abu Abbas interrupted him.

“There’s no need to be afraid of the swamp. Even if the water is salty, the swamp will survive as long as there are people like you to protect it,” he said.

The wetland was once one of the largest wetlands in the world, measuring 10,500 square kilometers (4,050 square miles) in 1973, an area roughly the size of Lebanon.

It is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna and supported a human population estimated at 500,000 by the mid-20th century.

The great city of Ur, where most Bible scholars believe Abraham was born, and Uruk, which was the world’s largest city in 3200 B.C., was adjacent to a swamp.

Most of the wetlands are located within Iraq, but a small area known as Hawl al-Azim is located in Iran.

Throughout his life, Abu Abbas observed the natural cycle of creation and destruction of wetlands as floods and droughts affected traditional livelihoods based on fishing, hunting, reed production, and agriculture.

At the same time, we experienced the increasing impact of human activities on wetlands, including war, upstream dams, oil development, and agricultural pollution.

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