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Irak - Marsknomader & natur-genopretning

IRAQ: Focus on progress made in marshlands

IRINnews.org, 22. august 2005

Iraks marsknomader støttede et mislykket oprør mod Saddam Hussain efter den første Gulf-krig i 1991. Som straf blev marskområdet omringet af diger, området tørrede ud, og marsknomaderne var tvunget til at flytte. Efter fjernelsen af Saddam Hussain er digerne brudt ned, og dele af marsken genoprettet.

Marsh Arabs still face difficulties - ©  IRIN
AMARAH, 22 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - Hasan Aloki, a marsh Arab, looked at his empty boat after a long working day and gave a big sigh.

“Years ago I was filling this boat with good fish and supporting my family with good food by selling my daily catch, but after years of suppression from the ex-regime and the slow re-flooding of the marshes we are still struggling,” he said.

There are increasing calls for quicker flooding and rehabilitation of Iraq’s southern marshlands in Amarah, due to rising unemployment and delays in the return of the marsh Arabs.

The 20,000 sq km area has, for the last 5,000 years, been home to various livelihoods such as farming, fishing, hunting, reed gathering and the grazing of water buffalo.

But the area was drained in 1991 when former president Saddam Hussein gave authorisation for blocking water supplies to the area as punishment over those responsible in the south for the Shi’ite uprising in the same year.

As a result thousands left the area for neighbouring countries or elsewhere in Iraq.

Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne (MEP), European Parliamentary Rapporteur on Iraq and chairperson for the Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees (AMAR) NGO, told a July conference in London that the draining of the southern Iraqi marshes was "a humanitarian and cultural catastrophe as much as an ecological one."

Since July 2003, more than six projects have been developed by AMAR and the United Nations, who are taking the lead role, to assist the marshland people, but much more is required to guarantee a future for some 30,000 local residents.

Local people say their lives have not changed much since the fall of Saddam’s oppressive regime, as little has changed in the marshes so far.

"We were persecuted at the time of Saddam Hussein’s regime and now we are still suffering economically. We do not have good land and water for farming and most of our cows and buffalos have died. All we have received from the government is empty promises," Hameed Jasim from al-Gindalah marshlands said.

About 230,000 people were living in the marshlands in 1991, according to the Ministry of Human Rights.

The number of marsh Arabs still living there today is believed to be fewer than 30,000. International aid organisations estimate that more than 130,000 were displaced inside the country and another 75,000 entered neighbouring Iran as refugees. Officials add that statistics are vague due difficulty in gathering information under poor security.


Approximately 20 percent of the marshes have been re-flooded since April 2003, according to Abdul Kareem Qassim, director of the agriculture directorate in the southern city of Amarah and home to the marshlands said.

“There has been poor investment so far and the increase in our requirements for security has meant that money has been spent on that instead of development in the area,” Chasib al-Marsomi, general director of Rehabilitation and Development of the Marshes (RDM) in Amarah said.

About 12 NGOs, four of which are international, have been trying to help people in the marshlands, but corruption has been difficult to tackle, some officials claim.

"There are many NGOs providing help to the area, but they are not effective, because of the corruption. So many projects have failed,” he explained.

The help of People in Need (PN) NGO and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are providingfood and non-food supplies for the marsh Arabs, but for 4,000 families only, he added.


The marshlands suffered badly during Saddam Hussein’s rule and was neglected in terms of social amenities. The former leader stopped any development in the south to punish those responsible for the uprising against him.

Following the downfall of the regime in 2003, there were signs that people living in the marsh areas would live a much more prosperous life.

However, problems remain due to insecurity and slow reconstruction work. This is having a huge impact on the education system there.

According to official sources in Amarah, there has been a decrease in the number of students attending school, due to insecurity, poor infrastructure, compounded by a lack of qualified teachers.

Many qualified staff has left Iraq due to insurgency and previous conflicts.

Abdul Hakeem Fakher, general director of Amarah education directorate, said that there had, however, been good progress in establishing school buildings. There are 75 primary schools and three intermediate and secondary schools in the marshes of Amarah.

"We already have 65 schools and another 10 schools are being built after the fall of the regime. The percentage of students in primary schools is 80 percent, but for the secondary schools it is 20 percent only," he added.

Bad roads, transportation and insecurity were reasons for poor attendance, according to Fakher.

“Some of our schools were built with mud and have been damaged so it is very difficult for the students to attend lessons. The level of literacy in the children of the marshes under 12 years is 30 percent,” Fakher explained.

Most families here prefer not to send children to school, due to financial needs and send them out to work instead, he added.

Kareem Helow, a primary school teacher in al-Wadeah marshes, said that the situation in schools was miserable. “We are only four teachers in a school for 186 pupils.”


Improvements can be seen, however, in the health system in the marshes.

Today, there are five primary health clinics serving the area. Most of the centres were built over the past two years, Mejbal al-Mosawi, a senior official in the Amarah health directorate said.

All were constructed by the AMAR NGO, which also provides 12 health professionals.

The Ministry of Health in Baghdad said it had invested in the marshes and hoped by 2006 to be able to cover the needs in that region. A new highly equipped hospital is also planned.

“The marshes were one of the largest economic and historical centres in the country and it is very important that health care needs are met,” Mustafa al-A’ani, a senior official at the ministry, said.


AMAR and the Centre for Marine Studies (CMS) are also focusing on rehabilitating fishing in the area.

"Because of the draining, the marshes faced a severe shortage in Benni fish, the most important kind of fish in the area. We have a project to increase their number through a breeding programme where they are raised until they are the size of a finger and then released into the marshes," Sajid al-Noor, chief researcher for the CMS, said.

Fishermen had been told not to fish in the area until stocks were replenished to guarantee growth – but many are continuing due to financial needs.

“We need money to feed our families and for these reasons we cannot wait for the fish to grow and sometimes we have to fish the new baby fish,” Hussein Nuridin, a local marsh resident, said.

Livestock has also been seriously affected. A report issued by the Animal Production Department (APD) of Amarah, on June 2005, said the number of buffalos before the draining was about 26,500 and in 2000 were there were 16,850 – a decrease of 38 percent.

“Before the draining each family owned 15-25 buffalos, but now the number is around seven due to the shortage of water,” Aloki, a local tribesman, said.

The UN Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) is in the process of implementing programmes to replenish livestock, but help can’t come soon enough.


Slow reconstruction has forced many of them to search for alternative ways to survive. "We do not have jobs to survive and for this reason we have been obliged to ask our children to join the Iraqi Army or local police to get money to help our families," Shabil Hussain, a local marsh Arab said with tears in his eyes.

"No one is taking care of us, we have no services," Hasn Falih, a young marsh man, said. "They only know how to talk about democracy and elections, but talking about these things is useless without essential services for the people.”

© IRIN - This article appeared originally on IRIN News.org and is published by engelund.dk according a general agreement. To view the original article, please click here.
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is a project of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]


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Opdateret d. 3.10.2005