June 5, 2006

Swamp Samurai On the Marsh

Hatched by Sachi

Back in February, we discussed the Great Salt Marsh in Iraq, home of the Marsh Arabs, in our post Swamp Samurai. Saddam Hussein systematically destroyed the marsh by building numerous dykes and dams, displacing many Marsh Arabs who resided in the area -- first, before the Gulf War, simply to siphon off more water for the Sunni farms; then later to punish the Shiite Marsh Arabs for their rebellion against Hussein in 1991. (That was the rebellion encouraged -- but then not supported -- by President George H.W. Bush, "Bush-41.")

When the Coalitiion ousted Hussein, local Arabs destroyed the dykes. Coalition forces, particularly the Japanese, began restoring the marsh. Those efforts are showing a remarkable result.

Last time we reported that, as of August of 2005, 37% of the Great Salt Marsh had recovered. Now the June issue of BioScience has an update (hat tip Belmont Club):

Reflooding of Iraq's destroyed Mesopotamian marshes since 2003 has resulted in a "remarkable rate of reestablishment" of native invertebrates, plants, fish, and birds, according to an article in the June issue of BioScience.…

Richardson and Hussain report that 39 percent of the former extent of the marshes had been reflooded by September 2005. Despite incomplete data, the researchers found that in many respects the restored marshes they studied are functioning at levels close to those in one marsh that remained undrained. The fast recovery of plant production, overall good water quality, and rapid restoration of most wetland functions seem to indicate that the recovery of ecosystem function is well under way.

There is no way to know whether the increase in reflooding will proceed linearally; but it might give us a thumbnail guess of how long it will take to restore the marsh completely. From August to September 2005, an additional 2% was restored. That is a rate of 24% per year; as a very rough estimate, by September 2006, we might see 63% of the marsh restored, with full restoration by April, 2009.

But there are one-time events that may not reoccur, including a greater than normal snowmelt into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, leading to greater than expected river flows. It's probable the rate of reflooding will slow during the future, drier months:

Richardson and Hussain are not complacent about the marshes' future, however. The researchers point out that water inflow is unlikely to be sufficient to maintain the encouraging trends in coming years.

What we really don't know is how much of the marsh needs to be restored before the Marsh Arabs begin moving back in larger numbers. 90%, or 80%, or even 75% of the marsh may be able to support the full population of Marsh Arabs; we don't know how well it was utilized before the Baathists and Saddam Hussein destroyed it.

It also brings up a point that "environmentalists" never like to admit: nature is incredibly resilient. Anybody who has ever visited a jungle environment, from Africa to South America to Southeast Asia to the mangrove swamps of the Southeast United States -- understands how greedy nature is, always grabbing the land the moment humans turn their backs. Far from being fragile, nature is so powerful that it takes constant maintenance to keep it from encroaching on cities and homes.

We can't really say how long it will take to fully restore the marsh. But for the moment, at least, the work is going very well... not that you would know much about it from the popular press. For some unaccountable reason, "good news" stories out of Iraq seem to bore antique media editors and producers to tears.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, June 5, 2006, at the time of 3:42 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

" For some unaccountable reason, "good news" stories out of Iraq seem to bore antique media editors and producers to tears. "

You've got the two-fer going on, Sachi... both the reason you noted above AND the fact that a resilient wetland is so easily recovering are both facts which can knock the supports out from under the Editors' preconceptions. It's similar to the way the environmentalists aren't noticing the wildly successful recovery of the flora and fauna around Mount St. Helens.

It's not that they are with purpose and mean spirit blacking out the information... it's that in order to remain 'true believers' they can't even NOTICE this kind of information. Doesn't even register.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 5, 2006 5:07 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Hey Monkyboy!

Dang my google skills... I can't find the series of articles that you are using for reference. Since you and I seem to come from different points of view, I'll assume they are published on a site with which I 'm not familiar. Nor is Google. Nor is Wikipedia. Nonetheless, I'm very interested in this project for various personal reasons, and would LOVE to read more about it.

1. I'm using the wrong keywords; could you point me to a few?
2. Same. Maybe I'm using the wrong keywords.
3. And again... I'm batting zero here too.
4. Now THERE'S a quote I'd like to read, just for the context. For example, if it's said by the guy who gave the order to drain the swamp I'd have less willingness to believe him... but if it's from the Imam who leads the Prayers for the group we may just be wasting our time and treasure trying to help those who don't want it!
5. a. That is why we are trying to save the salt marshes and thus their culture... we recognize that Saddam's actions are likely to kill of these people, if not just their culture.
b. Now here you make a shockingly unfeeling comment about going elsewhere to live for a decade or two; and of course a senseless recommendation if they don't want to go back anyway. Perhaps you meant to say that this culture could just get up and leave forever.
c. I don't believe we ARE turning the Earth into an oven.

But don't let my disagreements with your last points keep you from helping us all understand the situation better by following the links you post for us!

Thanks in advance!

Mr. Michael

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 5, 2006 8:46 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

monkyboy, I am not surprised at all that you believe in the glbal warming. But to say we are turning the world into an oven? I love you so much. Please keep up the drivel.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2006 5:48 AM

The following hissed in response by: Sachi


1. Plenty of "MSM" outlets have reported on this story.

When we originally wrote about the Iraqi Marsh, I searched related articles. Aside from what we linked here, googling by the keyword "Iraqi Marsh" and "Marsh Arabs," only other MSM report we found was by CBS back in 2003. It said nothing about recent development.

All other references are blogs, obscure foreign presses, or human rights organizations. As far as I can tell, BBC is the only MSM which is following up on this.

I don't see "plenty" of other MSM articles which you speak of. If you see ones I missed, please post the links. I will be happy to read them.

The above hissed in response by: Sachi [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2006 12:54 PM

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