Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Update from Basrah

[Dave Hill posting for Michelle Stevens]

April 15, 2009 @ 6:45AM local time, Basrah:


Driving or walking through the streets of Basrah is hope inspiring and heart breaking. Driving to the Marine Science Center yesterday, I saw signs of replanting the public parks, small though they may be. Along the Shatt al Arab, the division between Iran and Iraq, there used to be statues of soldiers holding guns pointed at Iran. Now there is public art. Statues of pots of water, colored lights, a sort of board walk at night. One statue of twin dolphins was very beautiful, swimming together. There was a second statue of a large whale, broken in half by a shell. This area has seen active war since the 1980's, and it shows on buildings, streets and people’s faces; warm smiles with sad eyes.

In 2000 UNEP wrote a report o the desiccation of the marshes, chronicling the desiccation of the marshes. Over 90% were destroyed. By 2007, over 58% were rehydrated. In October 2008, the al Haweizeh, the best and most beautiful, was nominated as a wetland of international significance under the Ramsar Convention. In 2008 there was a drought. This year, Iran has completed a diversion channel on their side of the marshes, diverting the Karkeh River around the Haweizeh. It is dry this year, this magnificent and best wetland, unscathed by Saddam Hussein, is dry. The second trajectory of having the wetland become a World Heritage Site will be impossible. Everything is impossible without water, even peace.

The Iraqi's have asked for my help. I toured the prestigious Marine Science Center. The scientists are doing admirable work here, very important work. They have no access to the world’s scientific literature. They have [an outdated] Encyclopedia Britannica, absolutely NO recent or major scientific journals to develop their work. The library does not have access to major data bases for research that we have at our Universities, colleges, and even community colleges, high schools, to some lesser extent public libraries. The equipment they are using to sample soil and water chemistry for soil, water and air contaminants is impossibly low technology and dated. Our CSUS Chemistry Department scientists would cry, at least Mary would. I didn't even see a hood.

By the way, when we drove to the Ceter, the tributary of the Shat al Arab, running along the road we saw […] was a burnt sienna pink color - obviously some industrial chemicals and raw waste was entering the water supply. My hair feels weird from washing in the water here, although don't think its caustic to my skin. Just not clean. I wonder about brushing my teeth.

So what we have is the premiere prestigious scientific institution, and government environmental scientists, not having the labs to test for or in any way remediate highly toxic air, water and soil; this after constant war, chemical weapons unleashed in the Iran and Iraq war (by Saddam Hussein, given by U.S.A.).

I feel I have a big responsibility when I come back: Help, Publicity, [tell] the story.

I was able to walk back from our restaurant last night…. The dogs on the streets are in awful condition, skinny and mangy, running with their tails between their legs furtively. One had its hind left leg at a right angle. All were limping.

As we walked, soldiers drove by in the backs of trucks fully armed, with sirens and lights. It was scary. We walked well away from the streets, as the drivers do NOT slow for pedestrians. At least they didn't swerve.

End of this transmission.

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