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Saturday, Dec. 18, 2004

Iraqi officials end seminar with plan to save their marshlands


Staff writer

OSAKA -- A two-week seminar for Iraqi officials on preserving the rapidly disappearing marshlands in southern Iraq concluded Friday with plans to launch a pilot program that would introduce water and sanitation technologies to the area.

But some participants, while welcoming the idea of such a program, expressed concern that it would fail unless more basic infrastructure problems were resolved first.

Sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program's Division of Technology, Industry, and Economics, concurrent seminars in Shiga Prefecture and Osaka brought together nearly 60 water and sanitation specialists from Iraq to learn about international water management and technology standards.

The plight of the Al-Ahwar Marshlands is now an international issue of concern, and the Japanese government is leading the effort to provide knowledge and assistance for their preservation.

The marshlands are a biologically diverse ecosystem southeast of Baghdad. They are in critical danger of disappearing because decades of war and mismanagement have reduced them to only about 10 percent of their original size.

Japan has committed $11 million to their preservation, and part of that money was used for the two-week introductory seminar.

Junko Ochi, senior liaison officer to the UNEP International Technology Center in Osaka, said the next step will be to gather basic data about the marshlands, including the number of people who live there and the size of their families.

"The purpose of gathering such data will be to launch a pilot program to provide environmentally sustainable technologies for water and sanitation projects in the marshlands and educate the people in the areas on their use" she said.

At present, three areas situated in and around the marshlands -- the city of Basra and the towns of Thi-qir and Misan -- are being considered as possible sites for pilot projects.

Formidable obstacles to carrying out such a plan remain, however, and not all are related to security or politics. Electricity in many parts of Iraq -- even Baghdad -- remains sporadic at best.

"In some cases, electricity, even in Baghdad, is only on 60 percent of the time," said one of the Iraqi participants, a government official who asked that his name not be used. "How can you implement new technologies when there is no electricity to run them?"



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