Reprieve from drought

Water buffalo return to marshes after rainfall

DHI QAR — Recent rainfall in Dhi Qar has rejuvenated the Umm al-Wu’da Marsh, located 13 kilometers from Karmat Bani Said city, after two years of observed decline. The revitalization marks a significant moment for an area where the marsh’s health is as critical as that of the Chibayish Marshes in Nasiriyah, the center of Dhi Qar governorate.

Buffalo breeders and reed industry workers returned to the marsh on Wednesday, with local residents eagerly anticipating the start of the fishing season.

The Chibayish Marshes, integral to Iraq’s famed marshlands, face severe threats from water diversion, climate change, and other human activities. These wetlands are essential for biodiversity and serve as the backbone for local economies, offering resources for fishing, buffalo grazing, and reed harvesting. However, challenges such as decreasing water levels, rising salinity, and drought have led to significant ecological and social impacts, including migration away from the marshes towards cities.

They had previously been on the verge of extinction due to Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime policy of constructing ditches to starve the marshes of water – ostensibly to target Shia rebels hiding there. However, they were revived following the removal of the former dictator from power.

But now it is environmental degradation and droughts afflicting Iraq’s marshlands once again. They have triggered migrations, as agricultural yields decline and arable land is lost. Rural communities are compelled to move toward urban centers in search of better opportunities, highlighting the need for immediate environmental and social interventions.

Mustafa Al-Saeedi, a member of the Suq Al-Shuyukh Environmental Forum, told 964media, “A year and a half ago, we came to the Umm al-Wu’da Marsh and organized a campaign to protect the marshes. The recent rainfall has brought a much-needed revival, bringing back buffalo breeders, fishermen, and reed industry workers.”

Buffalo breeders rely on the marshes for grazing, integral to their livelihoods and cultural heritage. Similarly, the reed industry, capitalizing on the marshes’ abundant reed beds, supports the construction of traditional homes and crafts, vital for the community’s economy and way of life.

Dhi Qar experienced significant rainfall on March 27, with 32mm of rain raising the water levels in the marshes, vital for local livelihoods and a remarkable environmental and geographical feature.

Ali Tariq, Nasiriyah’s Meteorological Director, stated, “This rainfall matches the total rainfall of the last season in the area.”

Ali Hamed, a resident of the Umm Al-Wu’da Marsh area, informed 964media, “The marshes were dry for two years with no water presence. Now, the waters have returned, and we are waiting for the growth of small fish to commence the fishing season.”

The Iraqi Marshes, known locally as Al-Ahwar, are situated in the country’s southern part, lying in the flood plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Recognized for their biological and cultural importance, the United Nations designated the marshes a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. However, recent reports have highlighted a significant reduction in their size and a decrease in wildlife diversity due to drying, impacting local communities and leading to the loss of income for many fishermen.

Iraq ranks as the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change worldwide, facing increasing temperatures, droughts, and severe weather events. These environmental changes severely affect the nation’s agriculture and oil-dependent economy, threatening food security, exacerbating electricity shortages, and diminishing economic output.

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