In the political chaos of the Middle East, cultural warfare and societal conflict immediately over-shadow any environmental impacts. However, it is important to keep ecological casualties in mind when tallying the costs of international conflict and internal uncertainty.
Human intervention has made a great impact on the survival of marshes in both destruction and restoration. The region of former Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) surrounding the Euphrates and Tigris rivers was spotted with healthy marshes prior to the 1950s. As dams and the popularity of hydroelectricity boomed, many of these wetlands disappeared. The areas once covered with thriving marshes were dammed for flood control, canals, and agricultural reservoirs used for irrigation. These marshes sustained further damage in the 1990s at the hands of Saddam Hussein (former President of Iraq, 1979-2003). Upon his orders, vast areas of wetlands were drained to impede upon anti-government rebellions against his political leadership.
In the political turmoil following the end of Hussein’s rule, numerous dykes were destroyed and marshes re-flooded. Although these marshes were not originally healthy (as many of them lacked aquatic vegetation), the wetlands showed significant progress between 2004 and 2005 as signs of algae growth appeared. However, by 2008 the marshes still failed to thrive in comparison to healthy wetlands. Muddy, reddish water plagued the region, showing the ecological consistency of puddles rather than wetland ecosystems. The political and social conflict surrounding Iraq during this time can be evidenced even in the region’s water sources today.
Field research conducted by the United Nations with the collaboration of Iraqi and American scientists showed a “remarkable rate of reestablishment’ within the marshes, though their gradual restoration will continue for decades. Officials report that the affected wetlands are ecologically isolated, susceptible to local extinctions, and at risk due to low diversity. Although the discovery of algae formation presents researchers with hopes of recovery, the marshes will continue to struggle and remain unhealthy for several decades.