Mohammed Hamid Nour is simply 23 however is already nostalgic for the way Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes as soon as had been earlier than drought dried them up, decimating his herd of water buffaloes.
Even at their centre in Chibayish, just a few expanses of the traditional waterways – residence to a Marsh Arab tradition that goes again millennia – survive, linked by channels that snake by way of the reeds.
Pull again additional and the water provides approach to naked, cracked earth.
Mohammed has misplaced three-quarters of his herd to the drought that’s now ravaging the marshes for a fourth consecutive yr. The United Nations stated it’s the worst in 40 years, describing the state of affairs as “alarming”, with “70 % of the marshes devoid of water”.
“I encourage you, Allah, have mercy!” Mohammed implored, keffiyeh on his head as he contemplated the catastrophe beneath the unforgiving blue of a cloudless sky.
Because the marshes dry out, the water will get salty till it begins killing the buffaloes. A lot of Mohammed’s herd died like this, others he was compelled to promote earlier than they too perished.
“If the drought continues and the federal government doesn’t assist us, the others may also die,” stated the younger herder, who has no different earnings.
Within the Nineteen Nineties, Iraq’s former strongman President Saddam Hussein drained the marshes – which had been 20,000sq km (7,700sq miles) – to punish the Marsh Arabs, diverting the flows of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers away from the land.
It was solely after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that folks started to dismantle the Saddam-era infrastructure, permitting the marshes to refill barely, however they’re nonetheless solely 4,000sq km (1,500sq miles) by the newest estimates – additionally choked by dams on the Tigris and Euphrates upstream in Turkey and Syria and hovering temperatures of local weather change.
Marsh buffalo milk is an iconic a part of Iraqi delicacies, as is the thick, clotted “geymar” cream Iraqis like to have with honey for breakfast.
The buffaloes are difficult to boost and their milk can’t be mass-produced, and their rearing is tied to the marshes
Each the Mesopotamian marshes and the tradition of the Ma’dan – Marsh Arabs – who reside in them, have UNESCO World Heritage standing. The Ma’dan have hunted and fished there for five,000 years, constructing homes from woven reeds on floating reed islands the place the Tigris and Euphrates rivers come collectively earlier than pouring into the Gulf.
Even their superbly intricate mosques had been fabricated from reeds.
At the moment, just a few thousand of the quarter million Ma’dan who lived within the marshes within the early Nineteen Nineties stay.