In southern Iraq, putrid water gushes from garbage pipes into the swamps that were supposedly home to the biblical garden of Eden, which threatened an already fragile world heritage site.
In a country where the state does not have the capacity to guarantee basic services, 70% of Iraq’s industrial waste is dumped directly into rivers or the sea, according to data collected by the United Nations and academics.
Jassim al-Asadi, head of the non-governmental organization Nature Iraq, told the AFP news agency that the black wastewater dumped into the swamps on the UNESCO list carries “pollution and heavy metals that directly threaten the flora and the fauna “present there.
Al-Assad, once an engineer in Iraq’s water resources ministry, left this job to devote himself to saving the extraordinary natural habitat, which had previously faced the destruction of former dictator Saddam’s hands. Hussein and he is even more committed to climate change.
Contaminants also “indirectly impact humans through the buffalo,” swamp accessories and known for the “guemar” cheese produced from their milk, he said.
According to Nader Mohssen, a fisherman and farmer born in the Chibayish district in the swampy area, “buffaloes are forced to go several miles to the swamps to be able to drink something other than contaminated water.”
And “around the sewer pipes, most of the fish die,” he added, pointing to dozens of rotten fish floating on the surface of the swamp’s water.
Pollution is just the latest threat to one of the world’s largest inland delta systems.
The rich ecosystem, located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, barely survived the wrath of Hussein, who ordered the swamp drained in 1991 as punishment for communities protecting rebel fighters.
Drainage reduced the swamp to half its 1991 area by 15,000 square kilometers (5,800 square miles).
A former regime official was sentenced to death in 2010 by what the UN described as “one of the worst environmental crimes in history,” although he reportedly died of natural causes in prison. last year.
A few years ago, Mohssen and other residents in the swampy areas (several thousand families straddling three rural and tribal southern provinces and struggling to get to both ends) believed their home would flourish again.
Once the canals and dikes built by the Hussein regime were destroyed, the water returned and with it more than 200 species of birds and dozens of wildlife, some of which were on the verge of extinction in other places.
Tourists, mostly Iraqis, also began flocking to the region for boat trips and lunch with grilled fish.
But today, the overwhelming stench emanating from sewage pipes drives people away.