February 4, 2006

Swamp Samurai

Hatched by Sachi

When we think of Iraq, we typically think of vast deserts torn by vicious sandstorms. But actually, there used to be a huge swampy area in Iraq -- the Tigris-Euphrates alluvial salt marsh, also known as the Iraqi Marsh, or "Eden of Mesopotamia." (Some Biblical archeologists believe this was the actual historical site of Eden in the Bible; and anthropologists agree it certainly was one of the cradles of human civilization.) Around the marsh, all kinds of plants and animals used to flourish... along with an whole culture that Saddam Hussein tried to wipe out: the Marsh Arabs.

The marsh was systematicaly drained by the Baath Party starting in the 1950s, likely to supply aquaduct water to the more favored Sunni farmers (the Marsh Arabs are Shiite). But in 1991, Saddam Hussein escalated the program in retaliation for a massive Shiite uprising against his rule:

[A] more serious threat emerged in 1991, when Saddam Hussein's regime began building an extensive network of dykes and channels to take water away from the marsh area, which originally extended for almost 9,000 sq km.

Satellite images showed that by 2002, the area had shrunk to only 760 sq km; an estimated 70,000 people were forced into camps in Iran.

The displacing of the Marsh Arabs into refugee camps and the destruction of the marsh itself is one of the "crimes against humanity" with which Hussein is charged and will eventually be tried.

When the marsh was destroyed, so was the livlihood and the culture of the Marsh Arabs. However, immediately after the Coalition invasion brought down Hussein's regime, local Marsh people rushed to destroy the dykes. As soon as reconstruction started, one of the earliest goals of the Coalition was to rechannel the river water back to the Iraqi Marsh to reaquify it. The Coalition got the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) involved; and according to the UNEP, by August of 2005, 37% of water had returned to the marsh.

“The near total destruction of the Iraqi marshlands under the regime of Saddam Hussein was a major ecological and human disaster, robbing the Marsh Arabs of a centuries-old culture and way of life as well as food in the form of fish and that most crucial of natural resources, drinking water," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director. “The evidence of their rapid revival is a positive signal, not only for the environment and the local communities who live there, but must be seen as a contribution to wider peace and security for the Iraqi people and the region as a whole.”

One of the forces leading this marsh revival effort is Japan. The government of Japan has already donated 2 million dollars to the project and plans to spend a total of $11 million. According to my online friend Silverlining, who participated in the recent UNEP conference held in Osaka, Japan is allocating an additional one million dollars to the project this year.

Japan's contribution is not just money. Japanese troops have been in southern Iraq since the end of 2003, many months before the UNEP got involved in July of 2004, helping the locals to restore clean water. (The Japanese troops are also helping open medical clinics in Iraq, something Americans rarely hear about: Iraq the Model's Omar once mentioned that the new clinic in Samawa was opened largely due to Japanese troops' direct efforts. Alas, it was some time ago, and we don't have the link.)

A major problem is that the Iraqi Marsh is a salt marsh with a very high sodium content, moreso now than when it was in its prime. In order to alleviate this problem, Japan employs highly technological desalinization equipment, equipment that needs constant maintenance and occasional repairs. (One of the best desalinization programs in the world is in Israel; but for reasons which should be obvious, Israelis cannot be involved with the program in Iraq.)

The good news is that there are many educated Iraqi civil engineers that the UNEP can reliably task to operate and maintain the desalinization plants. One Japanese official candidly told Silverlining that such a program could not possibly work in a place like sub-Saharan Africa, because there simply are not enough people who could keep it running.

Because of the abdication of the Antique Media from any news reporting about Operation Iraqi Freedom (other than an obsession with death counts), Americans and Europeans know virtually nothing about the numerous reconstruction (and construction) projects going on in Iraq. You would think that the American environmentalist groups would be ecstatic that we're busily restoring wetlands in Iraq; but then, as Ann Coulter says, they would have to be on the same side as the United States.

I have known a little about the marsh project due to my Japanese friends; but the details are not easy to ferret out. I am in contact with Silverlining, trying to extract more information from him, and I will keep you posted.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, February 4, 2006, at the time of 5:54 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

I would very much appreciate you passing along as much information about these programs as you can, Sachi. This is the best part about the Blogosphere; the ability to learn information that the old style media just cannot or willnot pass along to the world.

Press writers of today lean on the laurels earned by their predecessors, saying that their job and their charge is to 'tell the stories that would not otherwise be told'... and yet they are in such a nearsighted rush to be at the head of the Pack that they cannot be bothered to tell the story.

I'm assuming that there are hundreds of such stories, BIG stories about the huge impact that the liberation of Iraqis has brought to their worlds... stories known to the Press, but not told because it doesn't fit the template of 'What the People Should Know'.

Little do they realize that when they complain about Bloggers, they are complaining about folks who are doing what those Pressmen' heros did. Tell the story... we'll find it.

Mr. Michael

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 4, 2006 7:46 PM

The following hissed in response by: hayw

Terrific. Many thanks. I will pass along to many.

See Hayek on Intellectuals and Socialism, 1949, for further on "What the People Should Know". Definitive.


The above hissed in response by: hayw [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 5, 2006 4:25 PM

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