In Iraq's marshes, herders long for water

STORY: Iraq's historic southern marshes are drying up.

Herders here say they’ve been watching water levels drop in recent months.

...and it's already affecting their animals.

"This year the drought started around March. And until today, in May, there is nothing. Each day, the water goes down. This is scary, it is seriously dangerous. First of all, our water buffaloes are now getting ill."

The marshlands of Mesopotamia are fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, with an entire ecosystem in the area relying on water.

But the U.N. says last year’s rainfall season was the second driest in four decades.

Nature Iraq says the marshes’ water levels are lower this year compared to the same time last year.

And the group fears salinity and pollution will keep rising, making it harder for herders to keep their animals healthy.

The organization's Ayad Al-Asadi says buffaloes will stop drinking the water, forcing herders to move.

"This drought will cause internal and external migration. It will cause internal migration from the centre of the marshes, where the water buffalo herders are, to the spine of the marshes, which is the Euphrates river. Why? Because they are looking for water that is less concentrated. Because in the marshes, water salinity has started to rise.”

Climate change, pollution and upstream damming have kept Iraq trapped in a cycle of recurring water crises.

"People are shattered. You see that when people sit down and talk, they are really worried and the problems they have do not have a solution. People are confused. Where should they go, what should they do?"

Herders say if the water dries up completely, everybody will lose.

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