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7 ways humans are damaging the planet

Sept. 5, 2012, 5:56 p.m.
wetlands in Iraq

Photo: NASA

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The marshes of Iraq

The marshes of Iraq have a rich environmental and cultural history. For thousands of years, these Mesopotamian wetlands have supported a unique balance of people living in harmony with their environment. Marsh Arabs have fished the area for centuries while living in huts woven from reeds. But in the 1990s, Saddam Hussein drained the marshes to prevent supposed guerilla fighters from using these resources. After his fall in 2003, Iraqis have worked to restore the once-lush wetlands by demolishing the dams, dikes and canals set up by Hussein. Their work is being hampered by another menace — drought.

Here we see the marshes as imaged by NASA’s Terra satellite. On the left is an image from 2000. Instead of lush greenery, “the area was reduced to a few small green patches and bare soil, varying in shades from purplish brown to pale beige,” according to NASA. Any green areas are likely irrigated crops. On the right is the area in 2010 — from which it is clear the area has not recovered, and crippling drought in 2009 did not help. As Sheik Ali Hool told the Los Angeles Times, “What was once described as the Garden of Eden, the cradle of civilization, has been changed to desert and to a cradle of disease, poverty and suffering.” But there's hope: by 2010, the irrigated green areas in the center of the image appeared to be on the path towards restoration.