Azzam Alwash wins Goldman prize for his part in restoring Iraq's ecological marsh gems to much of their former glory



The Guardian write (in summary): Azzam Alwash wins Goldman prize: 'Saddam's marsh drainage project was war by other means'. Alwash is being honoured with the 'green oscar' for his part in restoring Iraq's ecological gems to much of their former glory

The vast Mesoptomian marshes in southern Iraq were said to be the site of the original Garden of Eden. On their fringes have risen and fallen 12,000 years of Sumerian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Persian and Arab civilisations. Organised farming is thought to have begun here, as did the first cities and writing. But when Iraqi-born engineer Azzam Alwash returned in 2003 after 25 years away, he found a devastated land. Instead of the vast and unique freshwater world, all that remained was an arid, polluted, dried-out wilderness where reeds did not grow, no one lived and nothing was farmed.

Saddam Hussein had drained thousands of square kilometres of the marshland that had once been fed by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in an effort to punish the people who lived there. It was an ecological and cultural disaster that the UN ranked alongside the destruction of the Aral sea or the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

On his return, he set up Nature Iraq as an NGO to focus on the restoration of the marshes and he offered his technical skills to tear down the giant embankments to flood the land. The ecological change was almost instantaneous. Within six months, weeds were growing and birds were coming back. By last month, around 3,500 sq km had been restored as marshland.

His mission now is to bring together the governments of Syria, Turkey and Iraq to better manage better the rivers. "It seems impossible, but we have shown we can make a start."