Death in the marshes: environmental calamity hits Iraq’s unique wetlands
Small gangs of buffaloes sat submerged in green and muddy waters. Their back ridges rose over the surface like a chain of black islets, spanning the Toos River, a tributary of the Tigris that flows into the Huwaiza marshes in southern Iraq.
With their melancholic eyes, they gazed with defiance at an approaching boat, refusing to budge. Only when the boatman shrieked “heyy, heyy, heyy” did one or two reluctantly raise their haunches. Towering over the boat, they moved a few steps away, giving the boatmen barely enough space to steer between a cluster of large, curved horns.
On the right bank of the river stood a cultural centre built in the traditional style of southern Iraq, with tall arches made of thick bundles of reed tied together. It catered to a large number of Iraqi tourists and a handful of foreigners who have flocked to visit the marshland region since it was named a Unesco world heritage site in 2016.
A couple of hundred metres past the cultural centre, however, the engine of the boat sputtered, and its bottom scrapped against the mud as the river dwindled into a…