Paradise Regained?

A Plan to Restore Iraq's Wetland Graveyard

Stephen Castles, director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, also believes that a new kind of protection system is urgently required for the millions displaced by development projects and environmental degradation but feels that it's a better idea to identify such people as "forced migrants." "It would be wrong to change the 1951 convention definition," he says, "because in the current political climate, any change is likely to be a watering down. Rather, we need specific protection and assistance conventions and institutions to meet the needs of the other types of forced migrants."

But even as Eden Again hopes to break new ground both in scale and concept, funding for the project is still uncertain. Project members are hesitant to put a price tag on achieving total restoration and repatriation, but Leiderman estimates that it will cost about 10 times the $7.8 billion tab on the Everglades project. This kind of money will probably have to come from the UN, the United States, and other countries, and at least for the moment, they are beginning to pay attention. In fact, "countries are fighting to be involved," says Suzie Alwash.

"We may find the needs exceed the funds but we'll only know that when we do a thorough environmental-impact assessment, which we couldn't do before,"says Greg Sullivan, deputy press director for the State Department Office of Northern Gulf Affairs.

This week the UNEP is hosting the Mesopotamian Marshland Forum, an international meeting in Geneva focusing on restoration of the Iraqi wetlands. Conservation and relief organizations will attend as well as the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and others. The concern now, says Suzie Alwash, is that USAID, which is putting forth billions of dollars for education, health care, and wastewater treatment in post-war Iraq, will try to bully other governments and organizations out of restoration plans.

Eden Again project members plan to go to Iraq in June. "There is a great deal of public interest, and all of the federal agencies want a piece of the restoration pie," says project manager Michelle Stevens. "Inshallah, God willing, it will work out for the benefit of the marsh dwellers and the marshes themselves."

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