Overuse and climate change kill off Iraq’s Sawa Lake

SAWA LAKE, Iraq (AFP) – A “No Fishing” signal on the sting of Iraq’s western desert is without doubt one of the few clues that this was as soon as Sawa Lake, a biodiverse wetland and leisure landmark.

Human exercise and climate change have mixed to show the positioning right into a barren wasteland with piles of salt.

Abandoned resorts and vacationer amenities right here hark again to the Nineteen Nineties when the salt lake, circled by sandy banks, was in its heyday and fashionable with newly-weds and households who got here to swim and picnic.

But right this moment, the lake close to town of Samawa, south of the capital Baghdad, is totally dry.

Bottles litter its former banks and plastic luggage dangle from sun-scorched shrubs, whereas two pontoons have been lowered to rust.

“This year, for the first time, the lake has disappeared,” environmental activist Husam Subhi stated. “In previous years, the water area had decreased during the dry seasons.”

Today, on the sandy floor sprinkled with salt, solely a pond stays the place tiny fish swim, in a supply that connects the lake to an underground water desk.

The 5 sq km lake has been drying up since 2014, says Youssef Jabbar, environmental division head of Muthana province.

The causes have been “climate change and rising temperatures”, he defined.

“Muthana is a desert province, it suffers from drought and lack of rainfall.”

1,000 unlawful wells

A authorities assertion issued final week additionally pointed to “more than 1,000 wells illegally dug” for agriculture within the space.

Additionally, close by cement and salt factories have “drained significant amounts of water from the groundwater that feeds the lake”, Jabbar stated.

It would take nothing in need of a miracle to deliver Sawa Lake again to life.

Use of aquifers must be curbed and, following three years of drought, the realm would now want a number of seasons of considerable rainfall, in a rustic hit by desertification and considered one of many 5 most susceptible to climate change.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, a worldwide treaty, recognised Sawa as “distinctive… as a result of it’s a closed water physique in an space of sabkha (salt flat) with no inlet or outlet.

“The lake is formed over limestone rock and is isolated by gypsum barriers surrounding the lake; its water chemistry is unique,” says the conference’s web site.

A stopover for migratory birds, the lake was as soon as “home to several globally vulnerable species” such because the japanese imperial eagle, houbara bustard and marbled duck.

‘Lake died before me’

Sawa is just not the one physique of water in Iraq going through the perils of drought.

Iraqi social media is usually full of photographs of grotesquely cracked soil, similar to within the Unesco-listed Howeiza marshes within the south, or Razzaza Lake within the central province of Karbala.

In Sawa, a pointy drop in rainfall – now solely 30 per cent of what was once regular for the area – has lowered the underground water desk, itself drained by wells, stated Aoun Dhiab, a senior adviser at Iraq’s water sources ministry.

And rising temperatures have elevated evaporation.

Dhiab stated authorities have banned the digging of latest wells and are working to shut illegally-dug wells throughout the nation.

Latif Dibes, who divides his time between his hometown of Samawa and his adopted nation of Sweden, has labored for the previous decade to lift environmental consciousness.

The former driving college teacher cleans up the banks of the Euphrates River and has turned the huge, lush backyard of his dwelling right into a public park.

He remembers the varsity journeys and holidays of his childhood, when the household would go swimming at Sawa.

“If the authorities had taken an interest, the lake would not have disappeared at this rate. It’s unbelievable,” he stated.

“I am 60 years old and I grew up with the lake. I thought I would disappear before it, but unfortunately, it has died before me.”

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