x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Helping Mother Nature

After tyranny and warfare, Mother Nature sometimes needs a little help. In Iraq's marshes, one man's efforts made a big difference.

Environmental protection is not always a top priority in the rebuilding of a country devastated by decades of dictatorship and years of war. So it is cheering that Iraqi-born engineer Azzam Alwash's efforts to restore the marshlands of Iraq have been recognised. He has just won one of six $150,000 Goldman Prizes for environmental activism, dubbed the "green Oscars".

These wetlands, fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, are used by migratory birds. Here organised farming, writing and the first cities are thought to have begun. In 1991, about 450,000 people depended on the area, including the 80,000 "Marsh Arabs" who lived in floating villages.

Mr Alwash, who often visited the marshes as a child, returned to his homeland in 2003, after 25 years in the US, and was devastated to discover an arid, dusty land. To deprive opponents of a base, Saddam Hussein had drained 90 per cent of the marshes. The UN compared the disaster to the deforestation of the Amazon.

Mr Alwash founded Iraq Nature and began restoring the wetlands. Almost immediately, Marsh Arabs began to return. Within six months birds and vegetation did, too. His success is testament to the fact that with a little help, nature is stronger than the rule of a tyrant like Saddam.