Is the Fertile Crescent Turning Into a Dust Bowl?

By Eliza Strickland | July 30, 2009 1:38 pm

EuphratesThe region today known as Iraq was once known as Mesopotamia, which means “Land Between the Rivers,” and since that ancient time the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers has been renowned for its fecund soil and thriving farms. But now the Mesopotamian cradle of civilisation seems to be returning to desert [New Scientist].

Decades of war and mismanagement, compounded by two years of drought, are wreaking havoc on Iraq’s ecosystem, drying up riverbeds and marshes, turning arable land into desert, killing trees and plants, and generally transforming what was once the region’s most fertile area into a wasteland…. “We’re talking about something that’s making the breadbasket of Iraq look like the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century” [Los Angeles Times], said Adam L. Silverman, a social scientist with the U.S. military.

It hasn’t been scientifically proved that tank movements in the desert have helped stir up the dust, as many Iraqi experts believe. But other factors are not in dispute [Los Angeles Times]. Turkey and Syria, which are both upriver from Iraq, have reduced the flow of the Euphrates to deal with their own water shortages during the region-wide drought, while Iran has built dams on tributaries that flow into the Tigris; all this leaves less water to reach Iraq. Experts say that bitterness over Iraq’s water threatens to be a source of tension for months or even years to come between Iraq and its neighbors [The New York Times].

The water shortage is causing what some Iraqi officials call an “environmental catastrophe,” as farms fail, land dries up, and enormous dust storms kick up and blast through towns and cities. The crisis is also taking a toll on the wetlands that form where the Tigris and Ephrates meet. The fabled marshes of southern Iraq, drained by Saddam Hussein and then re-flooded after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, are drying up, and the traditional Marsh Arabs who depend on them for their livelihood are being forced to leave again [Los Angeles Times].

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Saving Eden asks whether Iraq’s once-glorious wetlands can be restored
80beats: San Diego Residents Will Soon Be Drinking Desalinated Seawater
80beats: Colorado River, Depleted by Climate Change, May Bring a Grand Drought
80beats: Oil Cos. Buy Rights to Access Water Before Communities & Farmers

Image: flickr / Jayel Aheram

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
  • http://drvitelli.typepad.com Romeo Vitelli

    So much for the Garden of Eden.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_of_Eden

  • Shaithis

    Seems to be???? I thought it always was a part of the desert?

  • http://clubneko.net robot makes music

    Shaithis: Please read up on the ‘fertile crescent’

  • http://www.mypiggywiggy.com Food blog

    Enjoyed eading this – want a blog exchange? Please email me x

  • http://coitcarpetcleaning.blogspot.com/ Korey Bouwkamp

    42. Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, and I’m shocked why this accident didn’t happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

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