BRINGING EDEN BACK: PROFESSOR HELPS IN EFFORT TO RESTORE IRAQ'S MESOPOTAMIAN MARSHLANDS
COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio State professor recently spent three days in Cairo teaching officials from Iraqi environmental agencies how to create and restore the Mesopotamian marshlands.
It's part an effort to reestablish what was once one of the earth's most lush areas in southern Iraq's Fertile Crescent region.
The marshes in this area, which once covered a tract of land about the size of New Jersey, took a severe beating during the reign of Saddam Hussein. The government dammed and diverted the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and most of the wetlands either dried up or were drained.
Nearly 85 percent of the marshes were destroyed.
"Restoring the Mesopotamian marshlands in Iraq is probably one of the most difficult and ambitious yet important ecological restoration efforts ever attempted in the Middle East," said William Mitsch, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at Ohio State University. Mitsch is also the director of the Olentangy River Wetlands Research Park at Ohio State.
"But restoration is severely hampered by the dangerous conditions in Iraq right now," he said.
Mitsch spent the first three days of the workshop lecturing Iraqi engineers, scientists and other environmental professionals on ecological engineering, wetland restoration and creation, river restoration and water quality. Mitsch was one of about a dozen experts who taught during the two-week workshop.
This workshop is the first of seven such seminars sponsored by the United Nations' Environment Programme – International Environmental Technology Centre program. Restoration efforts are already underway, Mitsch said.
After the United States entered Iraq, Iraqis began breaking down dams and dykes on the rivers. Nearly 20 percent of the wetlands were re-flooded, and a majority of the vegetation regrew.
"It's not clear if this type of restoration is the right way to recover a healthy ecosystem," Mitsch said. "And we have to determine how successful this impromptu restoration effort has been before attempting to restore the rest of the marshlands."
Today, most of the Mesopotamian marsh area remains drained.