The Land Between Two Rivers: UNDP, the Government of Iraq and Canada join to protect the largest wetlands in the Middle East

September 17, 2023


Baghdad, 17 September 2023 – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Ministry of Water Resources of Iraq and the Government of Canada have joined forces to protect the vulnerable Marshland Communities in southern Iraq, with an initiative aimed at increasing climate resilience in these communities, whilst preserving biodiversity and the fragile ecosystems of the Mesopotamian Marshes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This initiative was launched this morning in an event held at the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) and attended by members of this trifecta partnership.

The land between two rivers

The marshlands are the largest body of wetlands in the Middle East. Nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq are home to hundreds of diverse wildlife, as well as to thousands of vulnerable Iraqis who see the beauty of their sacred home deteriorate daily. 

Over the centuries, many historians believed that the Garden of Eden was once located on the very site of the Mesopotamian Marshes. However, what is certain is that this area was deemed the cradle of civilization where some of the world’s first peoples and written languages began. 

“This joint project aims to protect the historical homeland of these communities by encouraging laws and regulations that protect the endangered wildlife who call the marshes “home”. The activities of the project are focused on awareness raising and creating economic and livelihood opportunities that are in harmony with this environment and contribute to restoring its delicate biodiversity,” said Auke Lootsma, UNDP Iraq’s Resident Representative. 


The hope of restoration 

The Marshlands have been gravely affected by soaring temperatures and diminishing rainfall—intensifying droughts and water scarcity. During the event this morning, H.E. the Minister of Water Resources (MoWR), Aoun Diab, said, “The biodiversity of the Mesopotamian Marshes is suffering and experiencing challenges due to lack of rain fall and other factors, which, together are affecting the resilience of the marshes. The local people who live there are also greatly affected.” 

The project, which will end in March 2026, is supported by a generous contribution from the Government of Canada, and will be implemented by UNDP under the leadership of the Center for Restoration of Iraqi Marshes & Wetlands at the Ministry of Water Resources of Iraq.  The project’s critical activities are geared towards achieving restoration of the unique ecosystems and biological diversity of the country’s most renowned heritage site. 

Some key activities include, improving regulations on sustainable hunting and fishing and equipping environmental police and increasing the capacity of police, women groups, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to enforce these laws. Enhancing the traditional knowledge of Marsh Arab women is also critical, through capacity-building trainings to increase their economic opportunities, whilst improving climate change adaptation of the Marshlands. 

“We see effects of climate change and environmental degradation on the marshes. In addition to this, practices that harm wildlife biodiversity have also had a catastrophic impact on the fragile ecosystem of these wetlands, upon which the indigenous population, migratory water birds and native fish species largely depend,” continues Mr. Lootsma.

By considering the crosscutting effects of climate change adaptation, biodiversity and ecosystems protection and climate-resilient livelihoods development, these organizations hope to make a positive impact in preserving and protecting one of Iraq’s greatest national treasures. 



Editor's note:


For media inquiries and more information, please contact:

Christine Cool

Team Lead, UNDP Iraq Strategic Partnerships, Advocacy, and Communications  |   +964 770 439 9222