January 18, 2017


Iraq's Marsh Arabs test the waters as wetlands ruined by Saddam are reborn (Peter Schwartzstein, Jan. 18th, 2017, The Guardian)

[I]n March this year, almost 25 years since she and her siblings were pushed off their land and into the slums of a nearby city, Hanaa and some of her former neighbours will be making a triumphant homecoming.

Authorities in Baghdad are rebuilding these lost communities. They are keen to resettle properly at least some of the roughly 250,000 Marsh Arabs who have trickled back to the area since it was partially re-flooded more than 10 years ago. At a time when some 3 million other Iraqis have been displaced by Isis-fuelled violence, officials see this as a crucial step in righting the wrongs of a previous conflict.

"These are our marshes, they're a key part of our heritage, and we're doing everything we can to get the water to them to preserve them," said Hassan Janabi, the minister of water resources. In July, Iraq's marshes were listed as a Unesco world heritage site.

Last summer, the ministry sent in an excavator to dredge up tonnes of wetland mud and mould it into 43 islands. The soon-to-be-residents, all of whom lived here before it was drained, are building their own houses. Most turned to the old tribal sheikh for mediation in divvying up the properties.

Life in these picture-postcard villages could be tough and unforgiving. Few had schools, even fewer had a health clinic, and none had electricity. It's the memory of these less than idyllic conditions that appears to have persuaded many of the returnees to rebuild along the roads that Saddam's army created through the marshes - where the amenities are superior - rather than chancing their luck out on the open water.

The new Ghubbah will be better laid out and equipped than its previous incarnation, local proponents of the plan say. With an entire island dedicated to "infrastructure", notably a classroom and a water filtration system, it will boast facilities of which its former residents can be proud.

Many of them, particularly those who spent a decade in exile in neighbouring Iran, will just be pleased to return home. "Everything we do - from buffalo breeding to fishing - is connected to the water, so it's good to live in the middle of the water," said Haidar Hammeed, whose family have gone from one temporary lodging to another over the past few years. "It's more practical."

Posted by at January 18, 2017 8:12 AM


« CITIES WERE A MISTAKE: | Main | WITH THE BARK ON (profanity alert): »