Iraq’s ‘Garden of Eden’ turns to desert after years of drought

“Before, when we came to the swamps, there was vegetation, water and inner peace.” This is how Ali Jawad, 20, who lives in the Garden of Eden, Iraq, recalls the flood years in the place, famous for its quotes in the Bible. After three years of drought, without the rains that should have cultivated the voluminous swamps, the rivers flow now gives way to yellowish vegetation, he told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 both for its biodiversity and its history, the site has had its life changed after this period of drought, with many families having to move in recent years. “They migrated to other regions, looking for areas where there is water,” said Jawad.

The problem also affects the animals, according to resident Hashem Gassed, 35, who has to cross 10 kilometers of sun-scorched earth to feed his buffaloes. “The swamps are our livelihood, we used to fish here and our cattle could graze and drink.”

Currently, Gassed owns five buffaloes. Previously, his family owned 30 of these animals, which either died or were sold. Watching over and caring for the remnants, the family fights for the survival of the animals and themselves, fearing that the weak and malnourished animals will fall dead in the mud.

The owner of the buffaloes regretted the situation lived in a place that was attractive for those who came from outside and even better for those who lived there. “We’ve been protesting for over two years and no one is listening. We’re lost where to go. Our lives are over.”

The Dutch peace organization PAX has detailed that between August 2020 and today, 46% of Iraqi wetlands have suffered a total loss of surface water. Another 41% of these marshy areas had reduced water and humidity levels.

Yellowish vegetation and dry area take over the place - Reproduction/Youtube - Reproduction/Youtube

Yellowing vegetation and dry area take over the place

Image: Playback/Youtube

The FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) considers that swamps are one of the places that suffer most from climate change, with “unprecedented low water levels”.

UNESCO says the swamps are home to “numerous populations of endangered species” and are important to some 200 species of migratory waterfowl.

Ahmed Saleh Neema, an environmental activist, says there are no more fish, wild boar and other typical animals. According to him, local authorities are rationing supplies to cover different needs.

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