The Last Of The Marsh Arabs


Iraq is one of the most climate-vulnerable places on Earth.


What happens to a community and ecosystem at the nexus of geopolitical tensions and climate change? And can 6,000 years of history save them?


The Mesopotamian marshes, named for the historic region defined by the Tigris and Euphrates and often thought to be the biblical Garden of Eden, lie on a vast, flat floodplain where the lower courses of the rivers come together to form an extensive inland delta. Historically, winter rains and snowmelt at the headwaters caused floods to the south, and the marshes would absorb this excess like a sponge, swelling outwards with seasonal growth and then shrinking in the lean summers by draining to the Persian Gulf. The inundations deposited silt from the mountains that fertilized the land, creating a diverse, lush ecosystem in an otherwise arid environment.


Early settlers worked this ground to grow crops and domesticate animals; eventually, around 6,000 years ago, agriculture led to urbanization. These early cities — Eridu, Uruk, Ur and others — relied heavily on the natural resources of the marshes and were strung along waterways and latticed with canals to give access to the plains, the Gulf and to one another. Farmers grew barley and wheat and cultivated orchards of date palms, under which prospered gardens of fruit and vegetables. People dug clay from the ground for pottery, and early forms of writing were developed to keep track of the burgeoning trade between cities. When UNESCO added the Iraqi marshes as a World Heritage Site in 2016, it was in recognition of the area as a cradle of civilization as much as for its biological diversity.


In partnership with Iraqi environmental monitoring network Humat Dijlah.

info

Abu Haider and Umm Haider drive their engine powered boats through the Chibayish Marshlands

×

Abu Haider and Umm Haider drive their engine powered boats through the Chibayish Marshlands

×
info

Haider punts his boat towards the central Chibayish fish market at dawn

×

Haider punts his boat towards the central Chibayish fish market at dawn

×
info

Ishmael Khalil Noor's buffalo and calves return jome at sunset after bathing in the waters in at his home in the Central Marshes, Iraq.

×

Ishmael Khalil Noor's buffalo and calves return jome at sunset after bathing in the waters in at his home in the Central Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Abu Eisa's daughter outside their family home in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq. In the background, the gas burnoff lights the night sky.

×

Abu Eisa's daughter outside their family home in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq. In the background, the gas burnoff lights the night sky.

×
info

Eisa outside his family home in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq. In the background, the gas burnoff lights the night sky.

×

Eisa outside his family home in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq. In the background, the gas burnoff lights the night sky.

×
info

Inside Abu Eisa's living room where the TV plays a livestream from Imam Hussein Shrine in Karbala.

×

Inside Abu Eisa's living room where the TV plays a livestream from Imam Hussein Shrine in Karbala.

×
info

Abu Sajad carries a faleh, a traditional fishing spear, in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Abu Sajad carries a faleh, a traditional fishing spear, in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Abbas in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Abbas in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Dried fish caught in the Hawizeh Marshes by Abu Eisa hang outside his family home in Iraq.

×

Dried fish caught in the Hawizeh Marshes by Abu Eisa hang outside his family home in Iraq.

×
info

Marsh Arab men meet in a mudhif [reed built hall] in Chibayish to discuss local matters over coffee.

×

Marsh Arab men meet in a mudhif [reed built hall] in Chibayish to discuss local matters over coffee.

×
info

Children in Yishan Halab in the Central Marshes, Iraq

×

Children in Yishan Halab in the Central Marshes, Iraq

×
info

A young fisherman on his boat during the daily fish market in the Central Marshes, close to Chibayish in Iraq

×

A young fisherman on his boat during the daily fish market in the Central Marshes, close to Chibayish in Iraq

×
info

Fatima's brother cuts fresh reeds for her water buffalo between the Central and Hawizeh Marshes in Iraq.

×

Fatima's brother cuts fresh reeds for her water buffalo between the Central and Hawizeh Marshes in Iraq.

×
info

Flaring from a nearby oil field by the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Flaring from a nearby oil field by the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

A disused water pumping device, used by Saddam to drain the marshlands, lies stranded in a desertified stretch of land that was once marshland in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

A disused water pumping device, used by Saddam to drain the marshlands, lies stranded in a desertified stretch of land that was once marshland in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Algae on the surface of the water in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Algae on the surface of the water in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Sajad stands on his family boat in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Sajad stands on his family boat in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Umm Jasim's children stand among their families buffalo and newborn calf in a traditional reed built stable in the Hammar Marshes, Iraq.

×

Umm Jasim's children stand among their families buffalo and newborn calf in a traditional reed built stable in the Hammar Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Burnt reed beds in the in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Burnt reed beds in the in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Fisherman in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Fisherman in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Abu Eisa's reed built buffalo enclosure in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Abu Eisa's reed built buffalo enclosure in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info
Jassim and his sister stand inside their families traditional reed built animal pen in the Hammar Marshes, Iraq. ×
Jassim and his sister stand inside their families traditional reed built animal pen in the Hammar Marshes, Iraq. ×
info

Abu Sajad [far right] stands with his uncle, Abu Hassan [2nd from left], his cousin, Abu Haroun, and another relative on hay bales beside their home on the edge of the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Abu Sajad [far right] stands with his uncle, Abu Hassan [2nd from left], his cousin, Abu Haroun, and another relative on hay bales beside their home on the edge of the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Fatima, who has lived alone much of her life, fixing her fishing net in the Central Marshes.

×

Fatima, who has lived alone much of her life, fixing her fishing net in the Central Marshes.

×
info

Children repair a fishing net outside their traditional reed built home in the Hammar Marshes.

×

Children repair a fishing net outside their traditional reed built home in the Hammar Marshes.

×
info

Spiders webs in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Spiders webs in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Contemporary Marsh Arab housing in the Chibayish Marshland during the winter months.

×

Contemporary Marsh Arab housing in the Chibayish Marshland during the winter months.

×
info

Fisherman carries a faleh, a traditional fishing spear, in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq

×

Fisherman carries a faleh, a traditional fishing spear, in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq

×
info

Abu Eisa's daughter outside their family home in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Abu Eisa's daughter outside their family home in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Traditional reed homes in Yishan Halab in the Central Marshes, Iraq

×

Traditional reed homes in Yishan Halab in the Central Marshes, Iraq

×
info

Abbas stands on his boat in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Abbas stands on his boat in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Umm Jassim prepares traditonal flat bread for her family using a mud oven in the Hammar Marshes, Iraq.

×

Umm Jassim prepares traditonal flat bread for her family using a mud oven in the Hammar Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

A fisherman cooks bread by lighting a bundle of reeds in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

A fisherman cooks bread by lighting a bundle of reeds in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Fatima cuts fresh reeds for her water buffalo between the Central and Hawizeh Marshes in Iraq.

×

Fatima cuts fresh reeds for her water buffalo between the Central and Hawizeh Marshes in Iraq.

×
info

Abu Hussein and Abu Fyal bring in their days catch in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Abu Hussein and Abu Fyal bring in their days catch in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Ishmael Khalil Noor and his family build a shelter for his buffalo to protect them from the heat in the Central Marshes, Iraq.

×

Ishmael Khalil Noor and his family build a shelter for his buffalo to protect them from the heat in the Central Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Dead fish lie in toxic water in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Dead fish lie in toxic water in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Freshly caught fish from the Central Marshes are displayed in polysterene boxes at a fish market in the Central Marshes near Chibayish in Iraq.

×

Freshly caught fish from the Central Marshes are displayed in polysterene boxes at a fish market in the Central Marshes near Chibayish in Iraq.

×
info

Abu Eisa's water buffalo in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Abu Eisa's water buffalo in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Jassim stands on his father's boat at dawn in the Hammar Marshes, Iraq

×

Jassim stands on his father's boat at dawn in the Hammar Marshes, Iraq

×
info

Children play with a baby buffalo in Yishan Halab in the Central Marshes, Iraq

×

Children play with a baby buffalo in Yishan Halab in the Central Marshes, Iraq

×
info

Umm Jassim prepares a fire for brewing tea for her family in a traditonal reed built house known as a sereefa in Hammar Marshes, Iraq.

×

Umm Jassim prepares a fire for brewing tea for her family in a traditonal reed built house known as a sereefa in Hammar Marshes, Iraq.

×
info

Fisherman in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×

Fisherman in the Hawizeh Marshes, Iraq.

×
Using Format