Stories about positive change in present-day Iraq suffer two big challenges. The first is that the insurgency continues to unleash horrific violence against both foreign soldiers and Iraqi citizens, making news about political or social progress pale in comparison. The second is that reports of efforts to improve the lives and conditions of Iraqis are frequently treated as political footballs: supporters of the war seem to latch onto these stories as "proof" that going to war was the right decision; opponents of the war can dismiss the stories as exaggerations, isolated cases, or irrelevant in comparison to overall problems. It's difficult, at times, to see such reports simply as examples of people figuring out new and meaningful ways to try to do the right thing.
The Canada Iraq Marshlands Initiative -- CIMI -- is precisely such an example.
CIMI is an effort led by the University of Waterloo in Ontario to "contribute to the restoration of the ecological, socio-economic and cultural values of the southern Mesopotamian Marshlands" and to "improve the living conditions of the people living in and around them." The marshes are home to thousands of different species, some on the brink of extinction, as well as the cradle of the Babylonian and Sumerian civilizations five millennia ago. Restoration of the Mesopotamian Marshlands has enormous historical, ecological and, yes, political value; efforts to bring back the marsh ecosystem have potential benefits for both the local marsh dwelling communities and water management across the Tigris-Euphrates region, from Kuwait to Iran.
The CIMI program is taking a decidedly science-based approach to marshlands restoration, trying to steer clear of any perceived ideological bias. Much of their effort will focus on building up capacities for monitoring, information analysis and collaboration -- all familiar topics for WorldChanging:
Trained Specialists and Wetland DatabasesThe first area of activity of CIMI focuses on improving Iraqi capacity to collect, analyze and systematically monitor the biological elements of restoration efforts. This information will feed into broader environmental management systems, so that Iraq can further develop and enhance national programs and policies for the management of the marshlands specifically, and wetlands more generally. [...]
Marshlands University ConsortiumTo ensure that Iraq has a strong scientific basis to manage the marshes for the benefit of future generations, the second area of activity of CIMI will be the formation of a university network for marshland restoration. Targeted universities with a strong interest in the marshes will be identified, and a network node established, based at the University of Basrah. The network will elucidate the tasks and responsibilities of network members, areas for joint training and collaboration, mechanisms for sharing information, and establishing teaching and research programs in the various universities. The research of the network will support the implementation of the collection, analysis and on going monitoring of biological data, and will contribute to the sustainable marshland restoration plan being developed under the auspices of the Centre for Restoration of Iraqi Marshes. [...]
Networks for Improved Coordination and CollaborationThe importance of improving collaboration between stakeholders will be stressed in all project interventions. The third area of activity of CIMI is therefore aimed at enhancing coordination and collaboration among and between: (i) Iraqi institutions and organizations, and (ii) donors organizations. The need for this type of process is critical given the historical isolation of ministries, universities and other organizations. [...]
Integration of Iraq in the International Wetland CommunityThe fourth area of activity of CIMI involves strengthening Iraq’s engagement in the international wetland community and environmental governance regimes. To achieve this, the project will support Iraqi and project representation at international, regional and national meetings and workshops. [...] The project could also support Iraq’s designation of its first Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and possible designation as a World Heritage Site under the World Heritage Convention. CIMI will also provide technical assistance in facilitating connections to other relevant international conventions and agreements such as the Convention of Biological Diversity and Regional Organization for Protection of the Marine Environment.
CIMI is sponsoring a new exhibit of photographs from the Mesopotamian Marshlands. The exhibit, at the National Press Club in Ottawa, Ontario, runs through September 9. Some of the photos can be seen on the CIMI website.
(Thanks, Michael Slavitch)