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 May 2003: Water Returns to the Desiccated Mesopotamian Marshlands
 28 May 2003: Press Release
 23 May 2003: Mesopotamian Marshlands Forum PPT Presentation
 22 March 2003: “Garden of Eden” in Southern Iraq Likely to Disappear Completely in Five Years Unless Urgent Action Taken
 2002: Photos
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 13 August 2001: Press Release
 18 May 2001: UNEP Study Sounds Alarm About the Disappearance of the Mesopotamian Marshlands
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May 2003: Water Returns to the Desiccated Mesopotamian Marshlands

Over the past few weeks, positive signs of environmental recovery have been emerging from the parched Mesopotamian marshlands. These changes are visible in new satellite images taken in May 2003 and which have been examined by UNEP’s DEWA/GRID-Europe. They dramatically reveal streams and waterways which have ebbed and run aground over the past decade, surge back to life and drainage canals swollen by an exceptional increase in water flows. Formerly dry areas have been inundated as floodgates are opened, embankments and dykes breached and dams emptied upstream. Heavy rains have also contributed to the rising water levels.

Ad-hoc and piecemeal interventions to modify control structures and earthworks, including by Marsh Arabs themselves, attests to their belief in the power of nature to heal itself; a view shared by many scientists. A more orderly and coordinated reinstatement of water, however, is urgently required to ensure greater coherence and long-term sustainability of these remedial efforts.

Mesopotamian marshlands in 2002
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Mesopotamian marshlands in 2003
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These Landsat 7 satellite images contrast changes (highlighted in red) in May 2002 and May 2003, when spring snow melt in the highlands of Anatolia and Zagors mountains typically caused the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to flood and the marshlands to reach their maximum extent. As has been the case over the past decade, dams and drainage canals prevented the rivers from cresting and flowing into the marshlands in May 2002. When control structures were opened and levees broken by mechanical diggers in April and May 2003, however, water swept through the desiccated landscape inundating some areas. In these false colour images (bands 7,4,2), swollen rivers and canals and flooded areas appear black.

Close-up zooms of flooded areas are provided below. All images were acquired by Landsat 7 ETM+ on 6 May 2003 and are false color composites using bands 7,4 and 2.

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Water surges through the 90-kilometre long and 1-2 kilometre wide west-east/north-south canal (also known as “Prosperity River”), which has reached full capacity for the first time since 1999.

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The Shatt al-Muminah/Butaira distributary network, the main source nourishing the former Central marshes, is flood swollen and overflows its banks.

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The two main branches of the Tigris River, the Al-Musharrah and Al-Kahla, feeding the Al-Hawizeh/Al-Azim marshes straddling the Iran-Iraq border, which had previously been cut back by drainage schemes, are now reconnected with the wetlands.

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The Al-Kassarah canal, linking the Al-Hawizeh marshes with the Tigris River, is flowing again for the first time in several years. The canal plays a critical role in maintaining the Al-Hawizeh marsh as a flow-through system and preventing it from becoming a closed saline basin.

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Sluice gates have been opened and embankments and levees breeched in the Suq al-Shuyukh area. Flooded areas appear as black patches. Also, note the Euphrates River in rising stage.

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Breaching of the Main Outfall Drain also known as the “Third River” has flooded a 15,000 hectare area near Qarmat Ali, north of Al-Basrah. Qarmat Ali was previously an important corridor for fish and shrimps migrating between the marshlands and the Persian Gulf.

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The information and images may be reproduced provided that acknowledgement of UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Europe is made.