Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hima Fundraiser

Last night, Hima Mesopotamia had its first fundraiser at the Kiwanis Family House in Sacramento, California. Over 48 people attended the talk by Dr. Nadia Fawzi on her life and lives of Iraqi's in southern Iraq. We were particularly delighted to have a large number of Iraqi's present. I learned last night that over 2,000 refuges have been relocated in the Sacramento area. Two men from the group Mesopotamia invited me to meet with them, to come to their homes, to listen to their stories.
Dr. Nadia Fawzi, guest speaker, Basrah Marine Science Center, Basrah, Iraq

Hima Mesopotamia is about telling people's stories. It is remarkably healing for a dispossessed people to have their stories told within the context of their culture, the land they come from, and their ancestors. We started out the evening with a movie featuring Dr. Azzam Alwash, Nature Iraq, and the Marsh Arabs. My favorite part of the movie is watching a small child rolling around and hugging a large water buffalo, as we in America might have our children playing and wrestling with a family pet dog. The mashoofs or boats on the water, the mudheif or guest house constructed of reeds, the remarkably buccaulic and tranquil floating islands of reeds. A hard life and a good life. When I think of Iraq before Saddam's reign of terror, I think of people living a subsistence life style on the marshes, entertaining guests lavishly, punishing enemies with a vengeance. Iraq also had an intellectual elite, with some of the finest colleges and best educated students in the world. Ramzi told us they had a final exam of advanced calculus, physics, physical chemistry, biology, arabic and english. The top scores, of whatever background or sex, went to the best Universities. I have been told that some biologists became biolotists because they couldn't pass the test high enough to become doctors or engineers. In Iraq, there were a lot of well educated and well paid women engineers and doctors before the wars.

Its sad how a tyrant, and those who allow a tyrant power, can destroy a world. The war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980's caused a huge debt, the loss of millions of lives, destruction of the border lands along the Shat al Arab. Saddam's incursion into Kuwait coast the country a great deal of lives, riches and the bad will of the international community. After the US invaded Iraq, the country is stumbling its way toward democracy. Nadia pointed out the Democracy did not arise organically from the people, the young, the inspired. It was imposed from the top down. What does Middle Eastern Democracy look like? I don't know.

I digress. Last night Nadia Fawzi gave a wonderful talk, sharing from her own life. She said she and her husband and four children moved to Yemen with almost nothing in their pockets, and were able to obtain jobs. Then they moved to New Zealand. Now her husband is in Saudi Arabia and her children are in both countries. Moving back to Basrah must have taken a great deal of passion, conviction and courage. Now the Marine Science Center scientists are going into the marshes and talking to the marsh arabs, finding what they need, and how their lives are. After three decades of war, hope is the greatest casualty. Without water, jobs, education, viable transportation to and from communities, healthy water buffaloes, gardens, or adequate fish, life is tough. There are high rates of infant mortality and birth defects from contaminated water and inadequate hygiene and waste disposal.

We had many students, members of the communities, and Iraqi's at the talk and good dinner and desert. To me this was a basket start, a beginning of creating a network where we can listen, we can hear the stories and tell them, and we can find a way to help. One thing we can keep alive is the knowledge that a healthy ecosystem is essential to keep functional and viable for a healthy human population.

Hima sponsored talks by Dr. Nadia Fawzi at CSU Sacramento

Dr. Nadia Fawzi, Marine Science Center, Raida Fahmi, and Dr. Michelle Stevens

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Guest Nadia Fawzi and Hima Fundraiser

Next week Hima Mesopotamia is sponsoring visiting researcher Dr. Nadia al-Mudaffer Fawzi, Assistant Professor of Marine and Enviornmental Pollution, Marine Chemistry Department, Marine Science Center, University of Basrah, Iraq. The fundraiser will be Friday, September 9th, from 6:00-10:00 pm. The talk will be "The Desertification of Eden: Stories from the Marsh Arabs" and a film on the Marsh Arabs. We will serve light middle eastern food. Suggested donations: $15.00 adults, $10.00 students, children free.

The location is the Kiwanis Family House, 2875 50th ST, Sacramento, CA. For reservations email or view our web site at

Other events this week include:
* Tuesday September 6th, Geology Department Colloquium from 4:30-6:00 in Mendocino Hall, Room 1015, CSU Sacramento Campus
* Wed September 7th, Environmental Studies Department and SSIS "Marsh Arabs and the Environmental Changes in Southern Iraq Marshes", Mendocino Hall, Room 1015
*Monday Sept 12th, STEM Faculty Forumj "Impacts of Environmental Change: The Life and REalities of Iraqi Women and Children in the Mesopotamian Marshes, presented by the Center for STEM Excellence, Sequoia Hall, Room 317.

Second Symposium

Special Session 2: Restoring Mesopotamia: Socio-economic Aspects of Cultural and Ecological Restoration


The Mesopotamian Marshes are a culturalized landscape, consisting of a reciprocal relationship formed over thousands of years between Marsh Arab cultures and the marshes through both agriculture and traditional resource management. This panel will document the difficulties of those who returned to the marshes, hoping to regain their traditional lifestyle, as well as those who choose to or are forced to live in the cities. With their marsh homeland disappearing into a salt-encrusted wasteland, the Marsh Arabs are once again a people dispossessed. The Ma’dan are now becoming urban refugee squatting on lands they do not have ownership or rights to, attempting to eke out an existence with their water buffalo. Water buffalo represent both an umbrella species and a cultural icon; they are the main source of livelihood of people in the marshes, and are indicators of marsh health. Marsh Arabs face huge difficulties from loss of culture, dire health and educational situation, and loss of traditions. They are facing a very difficult situation with many of the young want to stay in the city, yet have no access to health, education, work opportunities, or the luxury of electricity or television. Because they are uneducated they are working in low wages and putting the major cities under pressure draining the already scarce resources. The fragility and vulnerability of the vast marsh ecosystem is also jeopardized by a lack of equitable riparian water rights from upstream users in the Tigris Euphrates watershed. The dislocated Marsh Arabs are environmental refugees.

Dr. Michelle Stevens and Dr. Nadia Al-Mudaffar Fawzi, Panel Moderators


Michelle Stevens. “Eco-cultural restoration baseline: Traditional Resource Management of Marsh Arabs in the Mesopotamian Marshes”. Executive Director, Hima Mesopotamia.

Khalid al-Fartosi. Presentation given by Monica Dean. “Water Buffalo: Cultural icon of Marsh Arabs and umbrella species indicating health of the marshes ” Prof. Dr. Khalid Al-Fartosi, Biology Department / College of Science, University of Thi-Qar / Iraq. E-mail:

Tova Fleming "Breaking the silence: Finding hope in Mesopotamia"

Nadir Salman. Presentation given by Michelle Stevens. “Socioeconomic Status of People Inhabiting the Southern Marshes of Iraq” Marine Science Center, Basrah University, Basrah, Iraq. Email:

Nadia Al-Mudaffar Fawzi, Kadhmia M.W. Al-Ghezzy, Luma Al-Anber - Co-Facilitator of Special Session Panel, “Marsh Arabs and the Environmental Changes in Southern Iraqi Marshes (To Return or not to Return: That is the Question)” Marine Chemistry Department,Marine Science Center, Basrah University, Basrah, Iraq. Email:

symposium 2 at SERI conference

Dr. Nadia Fawzi, Basrah Marine Science Center, Tova Fleming and Monica Dean. Merida, Mexico. August 2011.

Society of Ecological Restoration Conference

We were very successful in our two symposia at the Society of Ecological Restoration in Merida, Mexico. There were over 1,000 people attending the conference from 70 countries. Dr. Nadia Fawzi from the Basrah Marine Science Center, Tova Fleming and Monica Dean participated in the symposia. We had several cancellations due to lack of funds or ability to travel to Mexico, so we gave their presentations for the missing scientists. The first symposium was taking a watershed approach to the Tigris Euphrates watershed.

Symposium 1

Water and Peace: A holistic perspective on the ecological and cultural restoration of the Tigris Euphrates watershed.

Abstract The Tigris and Euphrates River Basin is vulnerable due to water scarcity (exacerbated by climate change), inequitable sharing of water rights, and high risk of desertification. Participants representing Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait will discuss the scarcity of water, upstream dam construction, and long term implications for sustaining ecosystem health and cultural integrity. The future trajectory appears catastrophic throughout the watershed: devastating ecological and social impacts are occurring which jeopardize regional stability. With at least 26 large dams under construction or planned in the Tigris River in Turkey, there is cause for alarm and immediate action is needed to assess cumulative impacts and to mitigate the loss of species and habitats, as well as basin-wide socioeconomic impacts. With good water years since 2003, approximately 58% of marshes had been rejuvenated, and people had returned to their lives in the marshes. Unfortunately, past water years and upstream water diversions have resulted in severe drought, and now the Mesopotamian Marshes are drying up. Water levels continue to drop; marshes recede; salinities increase; and the fish, reeds and water buffalo that embody the marshes are dying. With low flows, salinity in the Shat al Arab has increased from salinity levels of 1 ppt to 9-13 ppt. Low flows and impaired water quality is adversely affecting fish production and biodiversity in the Shat al Arab and northern Gulf. Loss of fisheries alone will have adverse impacts on local populations. An international system of basin planning and equitable allocation of water rights is urgently needed.


Michelle Stevens and Dicle Tubaq Kilic, Doga Dernegi, Turkey. “Impacts on nature and culture of dam construction in Turkey on the Tigris River Watershed”.

Nadia Fawzi and H.T. al-Saad, “Examining the Condition of Iraq’s waterways and their impact on the water quality of the north western Arabian Gulf”

Faiza al Yamani, Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR), presented by Nadia Fawzi, “Impacts of reduced flows and impaired water quality in the Shat al Arab to fish productivity, biodiversity and socio-economics in the Northern Gulf”

Nature Iraq. Movie on the Marsh Arabs and Azzam Alwash.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Merida, Mexico

Yesterday Chris Oshiro and I visited Merida. I was here in the 1970's as a very young woman, camping on the beaches and taking cheap buses with a friend. It was very rural, the town was very small. In the mid 1990's, the town was growing, a lot of fast food chains and Walmart arrived, it was dirty and crowded and disappointing. This visit reveals a beautiful city, clean, beautiful old building built in the early 1900's in French, Moorish and Spanish architecture, renovated and colorful. The streets are wide, clean, and beautiful. It feels safe, and people seem very friendly. We went to the Anthropology museum, to see beautiful stone statues and remains from the Mayan culture. We decided to go to Chichen Itza on Tuesday to see the massive stone city ourselves. The historic part of the museum was sad, with pictures of firing squads and soldiers dead in battle. I think in Mexico the Indian populations are still not treated with due respect, other than in reminders of ancient cities and ruins. The living Indios, the Mayans, tend to not be treated with due respect, nor their living cultures celebrated as much as they deserve. Our tour bus driver also told us this is so.

It bothers me to see the bones of the dead on display. I blessed them. If reincarnation is true, someone may be alive today whose bones are stores in a museum exhibit. Even so, their ritual funeral and burial was not meant to be on display in some day in the future. I'm glad archaeology has evolved to not be so barbaric and disrespectful as it once was.

We went to Katun for dinner, serving Yucatecan food. We had sopa de lima and a Yucatan fish served in banana leaves. Great corn tortillas, home made! It's easy to spend a lot of money on good food!

Wildlife: boattailed grackels, really noicy! Royal palms lining the fancy estates. Ceiba tree, sacred, beautiful, emense, great presence.

More adventures today, and preparation for the conference.

Symposia on dam construction and water conditions in Tigris Euphrates

Our second symposia is "Water and Peace: Creating a holistic perspective on the ecological and cultural restoration of the Tigris Euphrates watershed." on the water conditions in the Tigris Euphrates. Most of our invited symposia attendees could not come and sent presentations. Dicle Tubaz Kulic, Doga Dernegi, Turkey, could not attend due to lack of funds. She will be sending a presentation on the desperate condition of people on the Tigris River from dam construction (see information below). Dr. Faiza al Yamani, scientist at the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research, was unable to attend and sent a powerpoint on conditions in the Kuwait. A port is proposed which will severely damage the area around Bubyon Island, a key production areas for fish and macro-invertebrates for the Gulf and Mesopotamian Marshes. We will include information on the Mesopotamian Marshes by Nature Iraq by showing a movie on the marshes. Nadia Fawzi will give an overview of the watershed. Unfortunately, only one of the guest speakers was able to attend.

It has been very frustrating, as the last UNESCO Conference in Basrah, Iraq, did not consider the boundary conditions of the water coming into the country via the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Another branch of UNESCO (United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) voiced its deep concerns about the construction of Ilusu dam as well as approximately 2,000 additional dam projects proposed in Turkey. The Committee released a report in May 2011 urging the Turkish government to review its legislative policies on evictions, resettlement, and compensation. Communities in Southeastern Turkey, primarily Kurdish, have been evicted from their homes receiving token compensation; they
have been settled in villages with no hope and no future.
The Ilusu dam on the Tigris River in Southeast Turkey will affect up to 78,000 mainly Kurdish people in Turkey and many thousands more downstream in Iraq. Almost half of the affected villagers and further affected 30.000 nomads have no land or land titles. The affected people face a future in extreme poverty, the loss of their livelihoods and history, and the disruption of their
village and family structures.

Additionally, Ilusu dam and other HEPP projects will have major environmental impacts resulting in irreversible conversion and degradation of critical natural habitats on the Tigris River. It will inundate 400 km of riverine ecosystem hosting dozens of threatened species, 300 archaeological sites and the 12,000- year- old town of Hasankeyf. Priority Areas for bio-diversity
forming a single integral ecosystem lie along the Tigris River between the Devege├židi River and the international frontier with Syria and Iraq. This is, as yet, an unaltered stretch of river and, despite dams further down- and upstream, it still has a full complement of riverine habitats and, all importantly, variable water levels and seasonal flows, according to Aysegul Ozpinar, Organizer of the Great March of Anatolia, a protest march from Hasenkeyf to Ankara. For several weeks, activists and dam affected people from all parts of the country marched towards the capital to demonstrate against the destruction of nature in Anatolia.“The right to a healthy environment is a fundamental human right. We will not cease to resist the complete destruction of our waters which the government currently pushes for”.

Chapter on Eco-Cutlural Restoration of Mesopotamian Marshes publishes

Our book and an article by Tova Fleming will be out in early Sept!! "Michelle Stevens with Dr. Hamid K. Ahmed, 2011, Chapter 20: Eco-cultural Restoration of the Mesopotamian Marshes,
Southern Iraq, In Dave Egan, Evan Hjerpe, and Jesse Abrams
(editors). Integrating Nature and Culture: Exploring the Human
Dimensions of Ecological Restoration. Island Press" (In Press,
scheduled publication August 2011)

Tova Fleming and Michelle Stevens, August 2011, Ending the
Silence: Ecocide and Renewal in Iraq’s Marshlands. Earth First!
Journal (In press)

Society of Ecological Restoration in Merida Mexico

We have arrived in Merida, Mexico. The first week is vacation, the next is the conference where we have two symposia on the Mesopotamian Marshes. Dr. Nadia Fawzi, University of Basrah Marine Science Center, and I are co-facilitating two symposia. Unfortunately, our invited speakers and proposed two symposia. One is on the socioeconomics of the marshes, discussing the Marsh Arab culture, prospects for restoration, and the disabling lack of water and loss of livelihood now occurring in the marshes. For this symposia, Dr. al Fartosi, Iraqi expert on water buffalo, was unable to attend. He sent pictures and text, and Monica Dean and David Kelly helped prepare the powerpoint. Water buffalo are cultural icons to the indigenous marsh arab culture, as well as integral sources of livelihood in modern Iraq. Without water in the marshes, the reeds die, the villages are dusty, and conditions deteriorate rapidly. Talks by Dr. Nadir Salman and Dr. Nadia Fawzi show the people in the marshes suffer from poor health, inadequate sweet, clean water, high unemployment (including inability to support themselves through subsistence economies), and poor education especially for women. I will give the presentation for Dr. Nadir, who was unable to come.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Updated July 2011 newletter and web site

We just published our July 2011 newsletter, and are updating our web site at Please visit our HIMA web site and get the latest updates on the Mesopotamian Marshes and Tigris Euphrates watershed.