Sustainable Resource Use Mesopotamian Marshlands
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.
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.
Click on image to download (1.71 Mb)
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.
Click on image to download (1.89 Mb)
The Shatt al-Muminah/Butaira distributary network, the
main source nourishing the former Central marshes, is flood
swollen and overflows its banks.
Click on image to download (1.68 Mb)
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.
Click on image to download (2.25 Mb)
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.
Click on image to download (2.31 Mb)
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.
Click on image to download (2.04 Mb)
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.
Copyright © UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Europe
The information and images may be reproduced provided that acknowledgement
of UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Europe is made.