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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
UN plan to save Iraq's marshlands
Marsh Arabs, Iraq
Some Marsh Arabs have returned since the fall of Saddam Hussein
The United Nations has announced a major project to help restore the lost marshlands of Iraq, which supported the ancient way of life of the Marsh Arabs.

The $11m scheme, funded by Japan, will help purify contaminated water and re-create natural habitats destroyed during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

The wetlands were drained as punishment after the Marsh Arabs gave sanctuary to rebels fighting the Saddam regime.

About 250,000 Marsh Arabs now live in refugee camps and Iraqi cities.

It is estimated that during the Saddam period, around 95% of the marshes dried out, largely due to the deliberate diversion of water.

Marshland, southern Iraq

An intricate structure of banks and islands built more than 5,000 years ago was also levelled.

The UN Environment Programme (Unep) believes that since last year's war, about a fifth of the area has been re-flooded by local people opening floodgates and breaching embankments.

However, this has led to disease as much of the water is contaminated.

The Mesopotamian marshes, once the largest wetland area in the Middle East, also provided one of the world's most important habitats for birds.

They covered more than 20,000 square kilometres (12,400 square miles) and straddled the Iraq-Iran border at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The new project will construct small-scale water treatment plants and recreate reed bed habitats which help purify water and shelter wildlife.


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