Thursday, 20 January 2011

Azzam Alwash and the Iraqi Marshes

Saw a fascinating programme on BBC2 earlier this week - "Nature World Special - Miracle in the Marshes of Iraq".

Back in the 1980's, the marshes in the south of Iraq covered a huge area and were filled with a maze of lakes and reed banked channels. The marshes were home to large populations of fish and birds - as well as the marsh Arabs who were expert at living in this beautiful environment. 

In the early 1990's, the marsh Arabs rebelled against Saddam Hussein. In response, Saddam built embankments along the Euphrates as well as drainage canals. Together these two measures soon turned some 90% of the marshes to desert.

Azzam Alwash grew up in Iraq, and his father used to take him on boat trips in the marsh area. Azzam later left Iraq to complete his studies and start a successful engineering company. He returned to Iraq in 2003 and was shocked to see what had happened to his beloved marshes.  

Having set up a charity "Nature Iraq" with his wife, Suzie Alwash, he helped to restore the marshes, which are now returning. There are still problems - a long term drought and dams in the upper reaches of the Euphrates are preventing the annual floods from ocurring - but possible solutions to these are being developed. 

A film crew recently followed his progress, which has resulted in this programme, which was beautifully shot and explained all the issues very clearly and concisely. Azzam is clearly a very charismatic and enthusiastic individual - someone you would want on your team!

If I may switch back to BFTF mode for a moment, one thread of this blog is to promote engagement with the media - both when they get it wrong and when they get it right. This is clearly as example of the latter so I have sent some feedback back to the BBC. Somewhat annoyingly, I forgot to keep a copy of the webform, but I think it went something like this:

"I just wanted to say thank you to the BBC for the 'Natural World Special' on the southern marshes of Iraq (Tuesday 18th Jan 8pm, BBC2).
The story of Azzam Alwash was truly inspirational, The love that he and his team have for the marshes was very heartening to see. If only we could all direct as much energy as they have towards such a worthwhile cause.
Thank you also for desribing the security precautions that the team took so that I could appreciate this aspect of working in Iraq at this time.
Most imporantly, thank you telling the story of the southern marshes so clearly and comprehensively, without needing to recourse to flashy graphics or silly camera angles."

I'm sure that you have seen something good somewhere in the media recently. Why not compliment the organisation concerned - you will be encouraing them to do more stuff like that!

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