Cablegate: Iraq: Italian Marsh Restoration to Enter

Published: Fri 3 Jun 2005 12:48 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: 04 ROME 1092
This cable is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect
accordingly. Not for Internet publication.
1. (SBU) Summary: The Italian Ministry of Environment (MOE)
plans to spend approximately euro 12 million through 2005 on
its "New Eden" marshland restoration project in Iraq. In
partnership with the Free Iraq Foundation, the GOI has funded
a two-year scientific survey of the re-flooded Abu Zirig
marsh near Nasiriyah, in addition to a feasibility study for
providing marsh communities with better access to potable
water. The GOI is now proceeding with a large "master plan"
for water resource management in the marshland area. The MOE
is also expected this year to fund the construction of water
control structures to improve water flow through the marsh,
the establishment of a model "green" marsh village, and the
installation of 15-20 portable desalination plants to supply
drinking water. End summary.
2. (U) Since July 2003, the Italian Ministry of Environment
and Territory (MOE) has funded the Free Iraq Foundation (a
Washington, D.C.-based NGO) "New Eden" marshland restoration
program ( So far, the GOI has disbursed
euro 5.7 million (one euro=$1.26) of the project's projected
euro 12 million budget. (Note: There is some discrepancy
within the GOI over how much Italy will contribute. MOE
officials expect the GOI to contribute approximately euro 12
million, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which tracks
spending on all Iraq reconstruction projects, lists the
project cost at just euro 10.5 million. End note.)
3. (U) "New Eden" involves three main projects: 1) the
restoration of the Abu Zirig Marsh, including scientific
monitoring and the eventual construction of water control
structures to improve water flow; 2) a pilot project to
provide marsh-area communities with potable drinking water,
including construction of a model "green" marsh village; and
3) the compilation of a "master plan" to manage water
resources in the marsh region.
4. (U) The total budget for the "New Eden" project is not yet
finalized, but the approximate breakdown is as follows (all
figures in millions of euros):
Planning/assessment (completed)............1.2
Monitoring/feasibility study (completed)...0.9
"Master plan" (start spring 05)............3.6
Control structures in Abu Zirig (late 05)..3.0*
Portable desalin/model village (late 05)...3.0*
Total 11.7
*estimated cost. Work could begin in late 2005 or early 2006.
Restoration of the Abu Zirig Marsh
5. (U) Iraqi authorities commenced re-flooding of the Abu
Zirig Marsh in June 2003, according to the Foundation.
Presently, about 40 percent of the original marsh reportedly
is once again underwater. The MOE and the Free Iraq
Foundation identified the area as an ideal site to conduct
scientific monitoring as the marsh was re-flooded. Project
managers hope the resulting data will help engineers better
manage the restoration of other Iraqi marshes. The GOI
supplied scientific instruments and training to Iraqi
engineers and scientists from the Iraqi Ministry of Water
Resources (MOWR), the primary Iraqi partner for the Abu Zirig
portion of "New Eden." Following a pattern used in other
GOI-sponsored reconstruction efforts, the MOE conducted
training in Italy for a half-dozen Iraqi scientists, who then
conducted the actual field observations.
6. (SBU) While Italian experts traveled to Iraq during the
initial stages of the project, such visits ended in 2004 in
reaction to a string of hostage takings involving Italian
citizens. Augusto Pretner, a hydraulic engineer and the lead
Italian expert on the New Eden project, told Econoff that the
Iraqi teams working in and around Abu Zirig have encountered
few security problems. Pretner said scientists involved in
the project make a special effort to obtain permission from
local tribal leaders before venturing into the marsh. The
monitoring teams also leave the marsh well before sundown.
Pretner said the main security risks in the area come from
economic-motivated banditry rather than insurgency-linked
7. (U) After nearly two years of research in Abu Zirig, the
scientists have concluded that the marsh is healthy overall,
though some areas have recovered faster than others. Pretner
noted that 50,000 people have returned to the area around Abu
Zirig; fish have also returned in surprising numbers. The
complete restoration of the marsh, he said, will depend on
how Iraq, and other countries up-stream, manage the Tigris
and Euphrates rivers, and whether these up-stream countries
will make enough water available to the marshlands. In
April, the MOE and the Foundation presented a report of these
conclusions to the United Nations.
8. (U) The MOE, the Foundation, and the MOWR are now
discussing the next phase of the restoration, which involves
the construction of water control structures at the inlet and
outlet of the marsh. This infrastructure, according to
Pretner, will help recreate the periodic flooding critical to
maintaining the marsh ecosystem. Pretner stated that the MOE
is awaiting a formal request from the Iraqi authorities, but
is expecting to approve euro three million of GOI money
toward construction of these structures.
Potable Water
9. (U) The second part of the "New Eden" project involves an
assessment of drinking water needs in the area surrounding
the Abu Zirig Marsh, a triangle formed by the towns of
Nasiriyah, Qurna, and Zubayr. The Ministry of Public Works
(MPW) is the primary Iraqi partner in this effort. According
to the April 2005 report, 340,000 of the 2.6 million
residents of this region lack access to any drinking water
supply system. The water typically available to these
communities is potable but often brackish. Providing
adequate clean, desalinated drinking water to this population
will require an investment of euro 335 million, the report
10. (U) The "New Eden" project also conducted a preliminary
feasibility study of using natural gas from nearby oil wells
to generate electricity to run desalination plants.
Currently, this gas is flared as a waste product. Pretner
said that it is unclear whether the quality and quantity of
such waste gas is sufficient to generate power economically.
Pretner told Econoff that the "New Eden" team had decided for
the time being to generate electricity using conventional
11. (U) Based on the "New Eden" study, the Iraqi MPW is
expected to present a proposal to the Italian MOE to install
15 to 20 small-scale desalination plants. These plants will
be powered by portable generators. The Iraqi authorities,
Pretner said, are also requesting funds to construct a model
"green" marsh village that will incorporate modern water
(and, presumably, wastewater) technology. Pretner said the
MOE expects to approve the proposal and spend an additional
euro three million on the portable desalination units and the
model village.
Water Resource "Master Plan"
12. (SBU) Parallel to these other efforts, "New Eden" experts
(which include a team of hydraulic engineers from the U.S.,
Italy, and Iraq) are compiling a euro 3.6 million "master
plan" for water resource management in the marshlands area.
The finished product will include a comprehensive survey of
water resources in the region and a detailed plan for
managing the reflooding of all Iraq marshes, including
reconstruction of ditches and channels that historically have
linked the marshes together into one system. The MOE's goal
in funding the master plan is to avoid further environmental
damage to Iraq's marshes due to haphazard and unplanned
reflooding. Pretner said that Iraqi officials were very
pleased with the work so far and may enlist the Free Iraq
Foundation to do a similar water resource plan for the whole
of Iraq.
13. (SBU) Pretner expressed the hope that "New Eden" could
further improve coordination with USAID-sponsored marsh
restoration projects. As Pretner candidly told us last year,
the New Eden project was conceived both to help the Marsh
Arab population and to create opportunities in Iraq for
Italian hydro engineering companies. These commercial
considerations, however, have apparently fallen by the
wayside, as ongoing security concerns have dampened Italian
private-sector interest in reconstruction work. As with
other Italian assistance projects in Iraq, the GOI emphasizes
the high level of Iraqi participation, which both builds
Iraqi capacity and allows Italy to manage these programs from
a distance. (The MFA, we have heard, still strongly
discourages travel to Iraq by Italian officials and private
citizens alike.)
2005ROME01883 - Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
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