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Few people realize that southern Iraq is home to one of the world's largest wetlands, similar in scale and significance to the iconic Florida Everglades. Sumerians built the world's first cities on its shores and religious scholars suggest these marshlands as the possible site of the Garden of Eden. But during the 1990s forces other than God or nature intervened when Saddam Hussein intentionally set about destroying this rare watery landscape while massacring tens of thousands of its indigenous people and devastating its rare wildlife.
Eden Again is the remarkable story of how the people of the Iraqi marshlands re-flooded their land, restored their beloved homes, and returned to their unique lifestyle so rooted in the marsh ecosystem. Intertwined with this tale of ecological redemption is the author's odyssey as she accompanies her husband on his return to his native Iraq, risking both life and sanity as they struggle to help revive a once-vital ecosystem admidst the turbulence of war and civil chaos. Eden Again is the authoritative account of one of the greatest environmental comeback stories of the 21st century in an area of unsurpassed historical and cultural richness.
For anyone interested in nature, ecology, the contemporary Middle East, ancient civilizations, geo-politics, travel, or ethnography, this is a must-read book.
"The destruction of the vast Mesopotamian marshes in southern Iraq must surely rate as the single most barbaric act against birdlife (and the natural world in general) within the OSME region in living memory. Saddam Hussein ordered the land be drained to punish the people who lived there. At the time it was said that these marshes would be lost forever, but nature is an unstoppable force, and given the right conditions wildlife will often return faster than we might imagine. This book tells the story of that return.
Suzanne Alwash has a fascinating insight to the process of recreating this huge wetland as she is a geologist, and with her husband – Azzam Alwash – she saw the challenge and worked with him to find the solution. It was not just a case of bringing back the water as huge embankments had been created and had to be demolished. It was habitat recreation on a truly massive scale.
The story of how the marshes were reflooded is a moving one because while Azzam and Suzanne came up with the ideas together with money and equipment, the local Marsh Arabs did the majority of the work themselves. The process was not easy as years of internal strife had bred mistrust among communities, and a huge part of the process was simply bringing people together to create a shared ambition. But co-operation was eventually established and despite the work coinciding with several years of drought, more than 50% of the former marshland has now been reflooded. In July 2013 the Iraqi Council of Ministers approved the designation of the Central Marshes of Iraq as the country's first national park.
The book contains many maps showing the areas that have been reflooded, along with photographs of the habitats and some of the key bird species, such as Iraq Babbler Turdoides altirostris. There is also information on the species present and a chapter summarises the findings of breeding and wintering surveys undertaken by Nature Iraq.
However, a greater challenge for the future health of the marshes comes not from within Iraq, but further upstream where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers run through Turkey and Syria. The creation of dams along these rivers is not a new idea, but over time the reduction of water flow has been so dramatic that further damming would seriously endanger the Mesopotamian marshes. It would be truly catastrophic if having achieved so much in the last ten years these marshes were again turned to dust through the actions of mankind."
– Keith Betton, Sandgrouse 36(1), 2014