As an Army pilot, Carina Roselli M.E.M. '14 had an aerial glimpse of the damage done to Iraq's fabled marshlands by decades of conflict and poor management. Now she's exploring how such war-torn places might one day be restored.
In the communities she visited, she found a sense of optimism that the country was ready to move forward after years of war. “For the first time in a very long time people have opportunities to do all these things they’ve wanted to do,” she said. “Culturally, they’re in this incredible bounce-back mode where everything is about progress, everything is about the economy.”
For most people, however, water issues are still not a priority. Most of the people she met didn't seem to realize how much their future water supplies depend on the policies of Turkey, or how water management in Iraqi Kurdistan will affect water availability for the rest of Iraq, including the region in and around Baghdad. Likewise, there is little recognition that Baghdad’s history of water mismanagement and aging infrastructure has left barely a trickle of water to sustain Iraq's southern marshes and their surrounding communities downstream.
Fortunately, when Roselli talked with people involved in environmental issues, she sensed a growing urgency to tackle these risks through more sustainable management strategies, additional green spaces, and education initiatives.
“And they are really driven,” she said. “I think if enough key leaders are really driven, over time things will change.”
When she was in Iraq the first time, as a soldier, Roselli spent nearly all of her time on a barren, tree-less, military base. The only place that even resembled home — the only place where “green stuff” grew — was a water-bottling plant that had a reservoir with pockets of reeds that attracted the few birds that still lived nearby.
“Almost every morning, after working the night shift, I would go there either to run around the track or to just sit there with my camera and take pictures,” she remembers.
For Roselli, who had always been an amateur birder, this pocket of the natural world was a critical source of mental escape. But it was also a grim reminder. Those last remaining birds, she thought, were a bio-indicator that these wetlands, which have been so critical to humans and wildlife for thousands of years, were vanishing.
And if the system is allowed to disappear completely, she thought, the loss of natural and economic services — from food and drinking water to an irreplaceable cultural heritage for indigenous peoples — would be staggering.
“I thought of how important these places must be to the Iraqi people because of how important that little spot of water was to me,” she said. “At the most basic level, these wetlands represent Iraq’s cultural and environmental history.”