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Iraqi Marsh Arabs Fight Drought, Pollution

The Iraqi Marsh Arabs are an indigenous population living in the narrow streams of the Chebayesh Marshes in the south of the country. They say their whole way of life depends on water. But these waters are threatened by climate change, pollution and dams. Raad Hamid Hashem gets up at dawn to milk his herd of water buffaloes – his only source of income. This summer has been difficult. According to the United Nations, Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second driest in 40 years, leading to a dangerous increase in the salinity – the amount of salt – in wetlands. , was forced to buy drinking water for his own herd. “We even dug wells, to provide water for the buffaloes. // We did all of this, really struggled, not to have to abandon our herd. We can’t live without them. We’re used to them. . ” The inhabitants also fight against pollution coming from upstream. In 2019, the government said raw sewage was pumped directly into the Tigris, one of the rivers that feed Iraqi swamps. After his overthrow in 2003, the marshes were partly inundated and many Marsh Arabs returned, including Hashem’s family. However, conditions have upset the fragile wetland ecosystem, endangering biodiversity and livelihoods. Environmentalists like Jassim Al-Asadi say Iraq must embark on a long-term water management strategy: “All species, whether birds or aquatic species , depend on this water. Whether the water is polluted, either because of sewage or because of high levels of salinity, it has an impact on the health and productivity of buffalo (water) and on biodiversity. Another drought is forecast for 2023 as climate change, pollution and upstream dams keep Iraq trapped in a cycle of recurring water crises. will be felt more severely by local communications: “If the swamps disappear, buffalo herders and fishermen will disappear, and economic activity (in the neighboring town) will decrease, for traders, dairy sellers, transport, services… Because the different components of local society depend on each other. So, if one component of the local society suffers, it will be reflected in the rest of the society which depends on it economically. “

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