United Nations The United Nations announced an $11 million project Friday to help restore the marshlands of southern Iraq, reputed to be the biblical Garden of Eden but turned into an arid salt bed under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Saddam drained much of the Mesopotamian waters between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers by building dams, dikes and canals after inhabitants supported a Shiite Muslim rebellion after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The U.N. project, funded by Japan, will aim to provide clean drinking water and sanitation for the people living there as well as restore the wetlands, the U.N. Environment Program said in a statement.
It will initially target about a dozen settlements for small water treatment systems, some likely to be solar powered. Reed beds and other habitats that act as natural water filtration systems will also be restored.
Iraqi engineers and tribes began reflooding part of the wetlands by cutting gashes in dikes in the euphoria of Saddam's ouster. Satellite images indicated that about a fifth of the area had been reflooded, the U.N. Environment Program said.
But experts say reflooding the marshes will need painstaking engineering if the balance of salt and plant life is to be restored.
"The challenge now is to restore the environment and provide clean water and sanitation services for up to 85,000 people living there," the statement said.