Iraq’s al-Ahwar Marshes become UNESCO World Heritage Site

Yesterday in Istanbul, Turkey, during the afternoon of the last day of the 40th session, The World Heritage Committee added eight new sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Among the added sites is the Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities in Iraq.

A Marsh Village in 1974.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention describes the site as such: “The Ahwar is made up of seven sites: three archaeological sites and four wetland marsh areas in southern Iraq. The archaeological cities of Uruk and Ur and the Tell Eridu archaeological site form part of the remains of the Sumerian cities and settlements that developed in southern Mesopotamia between the 4th and the 3rd millennium BCE in the marshy delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Ahwar of Southern Iraq – also known as the Iraqi Marshlands – are unique, as one of the world’s largest inland delta systems, in an extremely hot and arid environment.”

The marshes are located where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet. Despite being home to the Madan, or Marsh Arabs, as well as host to many different types of flora and fauna, the marshes have been continuously depleted for various economic and political reasons. The population dropped from an estimated 500,000 in the 1950s to a mere 20,000 and the total area was greatly reduced. However, following the 2003 American invasion, many of the dams were destroyed and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) did much to help restore the marshes.

Reflecting on the new UNESCO inscription today, Peter Wien, President of TAARII, said, “The inclusion of the Iraqi Marshes on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is a milestone, not least in terms of an acknowledgement of the importance of cultural heritage preservation for the country on its way towards a sustainable future. Iraq is extremely rich in heritage sites of world renown, of which only a handful have been recognized so far. TAARII hopes that social and political developments in Iraq and the broader region will allow that this is only the beginning in a long line of new admission that highlight Iraq’s central position on a world heritage map.”

Katharyn Hanson, TAARII’s Executive Director, added, “This is really fantastic news!”

The Mesopotamian Site of Ur.

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