Tuesday, December 05, 2006

IRAQ: Haytham Hussein, Iraq "I depend on the marshes to survive"

Introduction: For those who do not know Iraq it is helpful to know that the "marsh arabs" have long been discriminated against. They have always been at the bottom of the social tree. When you read of them for example in the Ottoman archives they were very badly treated.

For myself I have good reason to wish them well. When I took part in the rising against Saddam I was wounded. Neighbours hid me and then smuggled me to the marshes where cousins of theirs hid me for weeks until I could walk. They comforted me when I learnt that my wife and young family had been killed by Saddam's Mukkhbarat. Then they gave me a little money, far more than they could afford, and smuggled me out of Iraq.


IRAQ: Haytham Hussein, Iraq "I depend on the marshes to survive"

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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Marsh Arabs who have returned to the largely destroyed marshlands struggle to make a living.

BASRA, 5 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - When former president Saddam Hussein blocked the flow of the Tigris River in the south of Iraq in revenge for an uprising in 1991 by Iraq’s southern Shias, the marshlands, and the livelihood they provided to thousands of families, quickly dried up.

By 2002, suffering a loss of around three million cubic metres of water per year, the marshlands were almost completely destroyed as an ecosystem, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Hundreds of thousands of Marsh Arabs were displaced, threatening a centuries-old culture.

Since 2004, UNEP's Support for Environmental Management of the Iraqi Marshlands project has provided the area with clean water and sanitation systems and the number of Marsh Arabs living off the land has slowly increased. Around 100,000 people have returned, swelling the dwindled population by a third.

Farmer Haytham Hussein, 46, is one of those who returned.

“I depend on the marshes to support my family of 14. We used to grow crops and keep buffalo, whose milk we would use to make cheese to sell to the local community. But now some of our animals are dying and agriculture is hard in this area.

“Fishermen again cast their boats out where they can, buffalos roam the grasses and women prepare lunch for their families. But not enough has been done since the US-led war to regenerate the area.

“There is still less water flowing to the area because the government is not really interested in it, as it is looking after politics and power. We have very bad clinics and the doctors have little experience.

"The schools near the marshes have also deteriorated. My cousin told me teachers only go to school twice a week and there are not enough books to go around for the children.

"Some of us may be illiterate, but we are very knowledgeable in agriculture and rearing animals. We have been farmers for hundreds of years but now men are destroying our history by forgetting what is most precious in Iraq, the real roots of ancient Mesopotamia.

"We urge the world to help revive these lands again, not only for their history but also because thousands of families like mine need to eat and drink from the income that these marshes bring to our homes."



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