We had a meeting with many participants of the conference on Monday evening, organized by Dr. Malik and Dr. Adil of the Marine Science Center. Things in the marshes are in crises from both a human and ecosystem perspective due to lack of water. Mr. Hameed Abid, an invited guest speaker with expertise on investments, made three main points on difficulties in investing in Iraq: 1) foreigners are not allowed to own land, so would not want to invest in something where the business or investment could be nationalized or lost; 2) it’s extremely difficult to obtain a Visa for non-Iraqi’s; 3) there are poor management / business practices in Iraq. Therefore, funds disappear instead of being allocated to the tasks and deliverables of a given project. He suggested several investment priorities, including appropriate housing, hospitals, and schools as well as other business investments.
Other points made at this meeting and the conference is the critical need for schools, medical clinics and literacy, particularly in the marshes. Illiteracy has increased since the country has become so unstable over the last decades. This results in it being very difficult for young people to find employment, and to begin rebuilding the countries social infrastructure and intellectual capital. The Universities are free, so young people who become literate have many opportunities for education.
Dr. Hamid Ahmed represented the Prime Minister’s Office. He stressed the importance of returning water to the marshes, and investing in marsh rehabilitation.
During my presentation, I noted that there simply won’t be enough water to rehydrate the marshes. I recommended that a core conservation area be established using Biological Conservation Areas (such as those identified by Nature Iraq and Birdlife International) with flow through water. Then a buffer area with fishing or waterfowl management. Then an agricultural area with rice, date palms, citrus or crops. Human core areas could be established peripherally to the conservation areas for villages, archaeological sites, or sacred sites. I recommended that once the country was peaceful, ecotourism would be a good way to generate income in the marshes. Mr. Abid recommended this as well.
Ideas from audience (as best I could tell not speaking Arabic)
One person in the audience did not want to see the marshes exploited as a tourist area. He wanted to emphasize the eco-cultural aspect of the marshes. He felt Iraq was not ready for globalization.
Dr. Khalid Alfartosi “People think we don’t except change, but we do accept change. Someone told you we are like savages. People in the marshes need education, need to communicate with the outside world. The core thing to the Madan is to read buffalo and catch fish. We need to develop this.”
The young (less than 30) don’t like to go back to marshes, older people (>45) do
There is no life without water buffalo. We need a good life and resources. Some don’t want water to go back to the marshes because they are growing rice where the marshes once were.
The representative of the Minister of Environment. The marshes were 9,000 km squared in 1973, are less than 3,000 km now. We spent $225 billion D on the marshes in 2006. Now the money is lost with nothing to show for it. The government is now focusing on roads, schools and infrastructure. We have a Strategy Plan until 2014, with an Agreement with the United Nations. We have a conference in Amar in June to discuss the Strategy Plan. The first phase of the plan is conducting a comprehensive survey of everything in the marshes. UN Agencies such as UNEP will collaborate.