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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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Message from Klaus Töpfer, UNEP's Executive Director, on the Release of the Mesopotamian Marshlands Report: A Call for Action

Nairobi/Stockholm, 13 August 2001 - It gives me great pleasure to present, on this auspicious occasion of World Water Week and the 11th Stockholm Water Symposium, a report entitled "The Mesopotamian Marshlands: Demise of an Ecosystem".

There is no doubt that the disappearance of these great wetlands of the Tigris-Euphrates river delta represents a major environmental catastrophe that will be remembered as one of humanity's worst engineered disasters. It is a devastating account embodying in many respects the environmental crises of our times. This disaster encompasses disputes over water rights; pollution; threats to indigenous communities and to archaeological sites; human rights, environmental refugees and war damages; and declining populations of migratory birds and coastal fisheries.

Environmental degradation on such a scale and at such speed dramatically reveals how we are thoughtlessly imperilling our fragile blue planet. These actions are undercutting our own livelihoods and will haunt future generations for years to come. Specifically, the study highlights the mounting threats facing wetlands, one of the most valuable habitats on Earth, with important implications for the looming global freshwater crisis. UNEP has responded to this challenge by developing a Global Water Policy and Strategy and initiating a comprehensive and integrated assessment of the problems facing transboundary waters through the Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA) programme. These activities are also closely linked with UNEP's activities to protect marine and coastal areas through the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities.

These findings on Mesopotamia come at a time when the world prepares for the ten-year review of Agenda 21 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. For the tragic loss of this rare wetland has occurred in approximately the same period since world leaders pledged to safeguard the environment at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This study has not been prepared to assign blame, but serves as a harbinger of troubles to come, as worldwide environmental trends give little ground for optimism. We must intensify our far from adequate efforts to implement what we set out to do in Rio a decade ago if we hope to heal the deep wounds scarring many regions of our planet, from the Aral Sea and Amazonia, to Lake Chad and the encroaching Sahara and now in Mesopotamia.

It is hoped that this report will act as a clarion call, sparking fresh debate and opening new lines of communication between Tigris-Euphrates riparian countries, encouraging them to come together and share their precious rivers in a peaceful, socially-equitable and environmentally-sustainable manner. We can no longer afford to divide ourselves into upstream and downstream players, as ultimately in the great scheme of nature we all live downstream. This study also reminds us that the management of water resources is an inter-state affair, and that competing demands between different communities and sectors within countries need to be reconciled.

Our work in presenting the information in a scientifically rigorous and factual manner is now complete; it is for the concerned countries to act. If there is sufficient political will, countries should rest assured that UNEP will do its utmost to help them find solutions. The technical tools to wisely manage transboundary water resources and develop restoration plans to revitalize degraded ecosystems are readily available. Clearly the stakes are very high and the long overdue question is: when will we act?

For more information please contact:
Tore Brevik, UNEP Spokesman/Director, Communications and Public Information in Nairobi
Tel: +254 2 623292
Fax: +254 2 623927
E-mail: ; and/or

Hassan Partow, Information and Research Officer of UNEP/DEWA in Geneva on
Tel: +41 22 9178612
Fax: +41 22 9178092, e

Notes to Editors: The full report as well as downloadable images are available online at: sustainable/tigris/marshlands/

To obtain copies of this publication, please contact:

International Environment House
11 Chemin des Anémones
CH-1219 Châtelaine
Geneva, Switzerland
Tel: +41-22 9178294/95
Fax: +41-22 9178029

UNEP/DEWA/GRID - Sioux Falls
USGS EROS Data Center
47914 252nd Street
Sioux Falls, SD 47198-001 USA
Tel: 1-605-594-6117
Fax: 1-605-594-6119