17.07.2016 - UNESCO Office for Iraq

The Marshlands of Iraq Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

The Mesopotamian Marshlands (al-Ahwar) have been inscribed on the World Heritage List during the 40th session if the World Heritage Committee.

The inscription of the property known as ‘The Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities' is an international recognition of its outstanding universal value. With its cultural and natural features, the Marshlands played a major role in the development of the earliest urban centers and in the emergence of complex societies in southern Mesopotamia, dubbed as the Cradle of Civilization. The mixed serial property includes four natural and three cultural components, namely the Huwaizah, East and West Hammar and Central Marshes, together with the archaeological sites of Ur, Uruk and Eridu.  

"With this inscription, it is hoped that there will be new opportunities for international cooperation for the conservation and sustainable management of the Marshlands", said Louise Haxthausen, Director of the UNESCO Office for Iraq.  This important step would pave the way for exemplary conservation of the natural ecosystem and creating new opportunities for the community and maintaining sustainable livelihoods.

The inscribed property is the fifth site from Iraq to be included in the World Heritage List, after Ashur, Hatra, Samarra Archeological city and Erbil Citadel.

Located in the southern part of the country, the Mesopotamian Marshlands, also known as al-Ahwar in Arabic, is a rare wetland within a desert landscape.  It hosts a freshwater eco-system and provides a habitat for wildlife, hosting several species of birds and fish.  Until the 1970s, the marshlands used to cover an area of up to 20,000 square kilometres around the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Shortly afterwards, the marshlands were almost drained completely, and the size of wetlands were vastly reduced. Nevertheless, owing to initiatives by the inhabitants with the reopening of waterways, and, to good rainy seasons, the unique marshland environment is slowly being brought back to life.

Between 2009 and 2014, the UNESCO Office for Iraq and UNEP jointly implemented a project for providing assistance to the Government of Iraq with funding from the Italian Government. The project focused on improving the natural and cultural management of the southern Iraqi marshlands, through the process of preparing a World Heritage nomination file for the concerned area.

Chaired by Ambassador, Director-General of Cultural Affairs and Promotion Abroad of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lale Ülker. 

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