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Marsh Arabs and Draining of Iraqi Wetlands, Iraq

The draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes occurred in Iraq and to a smaller degree in Iran between the 1950s and 1990s to clear large areas of the marshes in the Tigris-Euphrates river system.


The Mesopotamian Marshes were once the largest wetlands in the Middle East and Western Eurasia. The Marshes formed from annual flood pulses of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. In the 1970s, the Marshes covered between 15,000 and 20,000 km2 of water surface and vegetation. The indigenous people of the Marshes, the Marsh Arabs, have practiced sustainable traditional resource management for thousands of years, developing an iconic way of life that ties them intimately to their wetland landscape. [1]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Marsh Arabs and Draining of Iraqi Wetlands, Iraq
Location of conflict:Tigris-Euphrates Marshlands
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Various Dams and Draining infrastructure was installed between 1950 and 1990.

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Project area:2,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:125,000-150,000
Start of the conflict:1950
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Nature Iraq:
Doga Dernegi:
ECA Watch Austria
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Development of alternatives:The Marshes were re-flooded after 2003 but locals are now demanding better water management to be able to cope with the water shortage (in quantity and quality) they are facing
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Despite the restoration of the marshes, marsh Arabs are still facing problems due to the lack of water and its poor quality. This is affecting their traditional way of life and their livelihoods.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[6] - Managing Change in the Marshlands: Iraq’s Critical Challenge - Report of the United Nations Integrated Water Task Force for Iraq, 2011
[click to view]

[1] - Effects of Mesopotamian Marsh (Iraq) desiccation on the cultural knowledge and livelihood of Marsh Arab women - March 2016
[click to view]

[2] - The Mesopotamian Marshlands: Demise of an Ecosystem - 2001
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[4] - Nature Iraq Website - National Atlas of marshes and wetlands in Iraq
[click to view]

[3] - Iraq's Famed Marshes Are Disappearing—Again - National Geographic - PUBLISHED JULY 9, 2015
[click to view]

[5] - Ramsar Convention, Iraq Page
[click to view]

Other documents

Marsh Arabs protest Ilisu Project in Hasankeyf
[click to view]

Restoring Iraq’s ‘Garden of Eden’- The Mesopotamian Marshlands Image via Nature Iraq on
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Christophe Maroun - [email protected]
Last update30/01/2018
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