Iraq's southern marshes are drying up

STORY: Iraq’s southern marshes are drying up.

They’re receding and turning brackish following multiple years of drought.

Fish are disappearing.

And an entire way of life going back centuries is under threat.

Fishermen here say they're feeling the squeeze - and they're asking: 'where do we go now?'

(Khamis Adel, Fisherman and farmer)

"There used to be many kinds of fish but now it's all gone, due to the lack of water and salinity and the dams that were built. Everything, fish and fodder, died."

On the marshlands' shoreline... it's a grim catch.

These tiny dead fish can only be used as animal feed.

Fisherman Ali Hakim says his water buffaloes are already dying of hunger.

“The water has dried up because of the dams, they shut the water off, also because the water is drying up, there is no strong (flow) of water. Our animals died of hunger. There are no bushes or fodder, the fodder is expensive."

It used to be different.

Some believe this area inspired the Garden of Eden.

Residents were self-sufficient…

Filling their nets with fish and tending to large herds of water buffalo.

But officials and locals point to a perfect storm driving the changes here:

Upstream damming of rivers by Turkey and Iran.

Mismanagement of water resources.


And man-made climate change that has led to less rain.

Nasser Samari is an environmental activist.

“We can't protect the marshes, we can't open rivers and don’t have the authority to do so. The state has to pay attention to the reality and I think the state only sees the marshes on maps. No one came and inspected its beaches, rivers, and villages to check its status and how important it is."

As the rivers and marshlands dry out, so does the economy that depends on them.

This boat maker used to employ up to 10 workers to build more than six vessels a month.

Now he toils alone.

“Work is no longer like it used to be," he says, "we can’t even afford to pay our rent because of the shortage of water.”

While many are fleeing to cities… there’s no guarantee of a better life there.

This man used to make a living off the Euphrates but now sells geese for slaughter and drives a taxi.

Making ends meet is a struggle.

More than 62,000 people have been displaced across Iraq due to drought conditions over four years.

That’s according to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.

It adds... that number is expected to keep rising.