Basrah Declaration Outlines Path for Marshlands Development
Government, UN, private sector and local communities call for governance reform and National Vision to secure the future of the region
Over 100 Iraqi officials, academics, UN and private sector representatives are calling for a new national vision for development in the Marshlands of Southern Iraq. They issued their statement in the Basrah Declaration of Principles for a National Vision for the Marshlands, released after a national conference held in the southern Iraqi city of Basrah on June 6 and 7.
Through the Declaration, the participants note that the recent influx of water to some of the wetlands and the growth in oil production in the area have not translated into a measurable improvement in the living standards of local marsh communities. Citing such factors as scarcity of water, climate change and a developing landscape, the participants also recognize that the pre-1970s conditions of the Marshlands are not likely to return. They caution that the lack of coordination among government planners, local communities, civil society and businesses could ultimately lead to irreversible damages to the environment and prevent sustainable development of the area.
The Basrah Declaration sets out 12 basic principles for all actors, including government, local communities and business, to follow. The Declaration recognizes the Marshlands as critical to the well-being of all Iraqis and as a vital component of the national identity (Principle 1). Participants also emphasized the right of actors in the region to pursue environmental, economic and cultural development (Principles 7 and 8) and the importance of eradicating poverty (Principle 10).
Sustainable development of the Marshlands, the Declaration states, will also depend on the use of modern science and technology (Principle 6) and the involvement of the oil companies and other private actors (Principle 9).
Stressing the criticality of water for the future of the Marshlands, the Declaration emphasizes that water should be managed nationally in a more integrated fashion (Principle 2). It also pushes for the enforcement of international law and other instruments to secure enough clean water for the Marshlands and its people.
Citing the need for reform of Marshlands governance, the Declaration advises better coordination and planning among government institutions and local communities (Principle 11), effective execution of major projects (Principle 4) and the consolidation of national oversight and authority over all economic and environmental activities in the area (Principle 12).
The Declaration was released with a list of proposed actions to set it in motion, such as the establishment of a Higher Authority for the Marshlands, the creation of an international development fund, and the drafting of a new national strategy for development in the Marshlands. The Declaration is being shared with a wide audience and will be presented to the Government of Iraq for formal adoption.
The Basrah Declaration was the main outcome of a national conference held under the title, “Rethinking Strategies for a Sustainable Future.” Co-organized by the University of Basrah, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and UNESCO, on behalf of the UN agencies working in Iraq, the two-day event brought together key authorities and players to discuss prospects for a better future for the Marshlands region.
Several new reports on the status of Marshlands were revealed at the conference, including ones from the Prime Minister’s Office, University of Basrah, State Ministry of Marshlands, Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources, and Nature Iraq, a non-governmental organization. UNESCO presented the UN White Paper for the Marshlands, a report developed by UN agencies that outlines the key policy options for the future of the Marshlands.
Recognizing the significance of the Declaration in pushing forward the agenda of the Marshlands, Ms. Christine McNab – Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq stated, “The future of the Marshlands is important, not only for the three provinces where they are located, but for all of Iraq...the future of the Marshlands is about you, the Iraqi people, and what you want to do.”