Saturday, February 15, 2014

Restoring Hope to the Garden of Eden

Things are looking up for the place once known as “The Garden of Eden,” a lush oasis between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

In the mid-1990s, Saddam Hussein drained the marshlands and poisoned the water as punishment against Shiite Arabs, who had rebelled against him after the Kuwait invasion. The rebels fled to the marshlands; Hussein followed and destroyed the area. The once-green landscape turned into a dusty wasteland, and the people who lived there, descendants of the ancient Sumerians,  were forced to seek other places to live. It was one more remnant of an ugly and poisonous regime, one more problem in a place already ravaged by decades of war.

Azzam Alwash, a civil engineer grew up in those wetlands. His father was in charge of the irrigation department, so as a young boy he spent many hours on the marshes. After Hussein fell, Alwash determined to return to his homeland from his new home in California. He was faced with a nearly impossible task: make environmental protection important in a land that was struggling with basic infrastructure issues like roads and water.

He founded Nature Iraq, a non-profit organization, and applied what he knew about hydraulic engineering to survey and restore the marshes. After the wetlands were reflooded, the previous residents returned to try to rebuild their lives. Iraq has its first-ever national park. Alwash continues to work on water issues throughout the Middle East.

For the full story on Azzam Alwash, click here:

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