Iraq's 'Garden of Eden' an Agricultural Disaster Waiting to Happen

According to this report from NIQASH, many believe the original Garden of Eden, as described in both the Koran and Bible, is located in Basra. Increasingly though climate change, water shortages and urban sprawl mean Basra’s farmers are coming to doubt that story.

War and conflict have led to the loss of many farms and crops in the northern state of Basra. Increasingly saline water supplies and drought have added to agricultural woes here, and have transformed what might once have been a Garden of Eden into an arid desert and an urban sprawl.

The agricultural adviser to the governor of Basra, Muhsen Abdel-Hay Disher, firmly believes that climate change has played a part in the decline in agriculture in the area. According to official statistics, 70 percent of what was arable land in the 1970s is no longer useable. Other records indicate that average rainfall has fallen to one sixth of what it used to be in the 1970s. Additionally Disher told NIQASH that in northern Basra, a quarter less land was planted with wheat in 2010 compared to the previous year. Due to drought the total area planted was only 44,000 dunums (4,400 hectares as each dunum equals 2,500 square metres).

The politics of water as played out by neighbouring Middle Eastern countries have also had a devastating effect on Basra. To the east, Iran has built dams on rivers that bring fresh water into the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The less fresh water flowing into the Shatt al-Arab, the saltier – and less useable - the water gets on Basra’s farms.

“The saline levels in the Shatt al-Arab water increases when the fresh water levels decrease,” explained Abed Mahdi, the owner of a palm farm in the Faw district. “Which leads in turn to increased salt in the streams that irrigate the palms.”

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