The 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize has been won by Iraqi engineer Azzam Alwash, for his work on the revival of the Iraqi marshes.
Giving up a comfortable living and family life in California, Azzam Alwash returned to war-torn Iraq to lead local communities in restoring the once-lush marshes that were turned to dust bowls during Saddam Hussein’s rule.
The Mesopotamian marshlands in southern Iraq are known by many as the birthplace of civilization. Situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the area was once an oasis of aquatic wildlife filled with lush reed beds, water buffalo, lions, foxes and otters. It was also one of the world’s most important migratory flyways for birds.
In the mid-1990s, Saddam Hussein burned, drained and poisoned the area in retaliation of Shiite Arabs, who had staged uprisings following the Kuwait invasion and fled to the marshes for refuge. The wetlands once known as the Garden of Eden turned to dust bowls, driving out the descendants of ancient Sumerians who had inhabited the area for thousands of years.
As a young boy in Iraq, Azzam Alwash spent many days out in the marshes with his father, who was head of the irrigation department in the area during the early 1960s. He fondly remembers looking over the side of the boat into very clear water, watching large fish dart away, and spending precious time with his busy father whose work often required his presence in the field.