Cablegate: Iraq: Italian-Sponsored Marsh Restoration Program

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
SUBJECT: Iraq: Italian-Sponsored Marsh Restoration Program


1. (U) The Italian Ministry of Environment and Territory
(MOE) has provided 2.1 million euros (1 euro 1.22 USD)
through the Washington-based "Iraq Foundation" for a
marshland recovery and water sanitation program called "New
Eden." The Italian government will likely provide an
additional 10 million euros in funding, according to an
Italian expert working on the project. Corrado Clini, MOE
Director General for International Affairs and Sustainable
Development, was in Baghdad March 14-15 to promote the
program, which currently involves two projects: the
scientific monitoring of the re-flooding of the Abu Zareg
marsh and a feasibility study on using flared gas from oil
wells to power desalination plants. At present, New Eden
represents the only environmentally focused Iraqi
reconstruction project funded by the Italian Government.
MOE funding will primarily support long-term planning,
scientific monitoring, and feasibility studies associated
with marsh recovery and water desalinization and sanitation.
While the project fills an important environmental need, New
Eden also follows the pattern of other Italian-sponsored
efforts in Iraq by funding planning and surveys in the hopes
of steering future contracting business to Italian firms.

--------------------------------------------- -----
Italian Money for Start-up, Research, and Planning
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (U) The MOE and the Iraq Foundation, a Washington, DC-
based NGO founded in 1991 by Iraqi exiles, started the New
Eden project in July 2003. The MOE has pledged 2.1 million
euros to date. Augusto Pretner, a hydraulic engineer,
senior advisor to the MOE, and one of the leading Italian
experts on New Eden, told Econoff the Ministry is likely to
give an additional 10 million euros. The MOE and the Iraq
Foundation describe New Eden as complementary to USAID work
already underway to restore Iraqi marshlands. Iraq's
Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Water Resources
(IMWR), and the Ministry of Public Works are partners in New
Eden and, according to Pretner, the three Iraqi ministries
have collectively pledged 100,000 euros to the program.

3. (U) According to a draft report Pretner provided to
Econoff, MOE grants have funded twelve fact-finding
expeditions to the marshlands between August 2003 and March
2004 and an initial survey/cost analysis of restoration for
the entire marsh region. Azzam Alwash, an exiled Iraqi
civil engineer who is a board member of both the Iraq
Foundation and the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, took over as
full-time project director in August 2003. The program also
includes a team of six Italian and three American engineers
and scientists, among others.

4. (U) From the initial large-scale survey, the MOE and the
Iraqi Foundation have chosen two smaller projects to
implement immediately: scientific monitoring of the re-
flooding of the Abu Zareg marsh and a feasibility study for
using flared gas from oil wells to power desalinization

--------------------------------------------- --------
Project One: Scientific Monitoring of Abu Zareg Marsh
--------------------------------------------- --------

5. (U) The MOE, the Iraq Foundation, and the IMWR, will
conduct scientific monitoring of the re-flooding of the 200-
square-kilometer Abu Zareg marsh, located in the southwest
section of the central marshlands. The IMWR began re-
flooding 60 square kilometres of the marsh in May 2003.
Among other work, the Foundation will document conditions in
the un-flooded portions prior to inundation; replant reeds;
restock fish; and monitor water levels and water and soil
quality as the re-flooding continues. The Foundation also
plans to use Abu Zareg to train 20 Iraqi experts from the
Iraqi Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Water
Resources to conduct scientific monitoring. The Iraq
Foundation will also design dams and levies that, if
constructed, could recreate the original flood cycle of the

--------------------------------------------- -
30,000 Marsh Arabs Could Resettle in Abu Zareg
--------------------------------------------- -

6. (U) The Foundation hopes Abu Zareg will provide lessons
on restoration techniques that could be applied to the
rehabilitation of Iraq's larger marshes. Restoration of the
Abu Zareg would also allow 30,000 marsh Arabs to resume
their previous way of life, if they so chose to return to
the marshland. The Foundation estimates that implementing
the Abu Zareg project will cost 3,850,000 euros, of which 3
million would go toward building the dams and levies. At
present, the MOE is funding only the monitoring and design
work and has no plans to fund these construction costs.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Project Two: Desalinization to Combat Brackish Water
--------------------------------------------- -------

7. (U) MOE funding will also support a feasibility study by
the Iraq Foundation and the Iraqi Ministry of Public Works
on harnessing natural gas from oil wells to power
desalinization plants in the Nassiriyah-Basrah-Qurnah
triangle in southwest Iraq, an area that also encompasses
the Abu Zareg marsh. Presently, most water available to
the triangle's 3.5 million inhabitants is brackish due to a
combination of high natural salinity and poor water resource
management. According to the draft report, the Iraq
Foundation believes methane from oil wells, currently
flared-off as an unwanted by-product, could provide enough
cheap electricity to power a network of desalinization
plants. (The same feasibility study will also explore the
use of solar or wind energy to desalinate water in remote
villages.) Current MOE grants will only cover the 550,000-
euro cost of the feasibility study. The Foundation also
hopes to build a 3-million-euro working desalinization pilot
project, but this will require finding additional donors.

Another Proposal: Marshland "Master Plan"

8. (U) The New Eden project has also proposed a "master
plan" study for country-wide marsh restoration. Pretner
said the additional 10-million-euro Italian pledge, if
finalized, would go toward this "master plan." The "master
plan" envisions expanding the scientific monitoring of Abu
Zareg to a much wider area of the marshlands, increasing
training for Iraqi experts, and, possibly, constructing a
laboratory for water and soil analysis. Pretner said the
MOE may also help construct an early-warning system to alert
the local population of dangerous floods. (The MOE funded
development of a similar early-warning system for Italy.)
The 10 million "master plan" will also include a
comprehensive long-term planning study for marsh restoration
and rehabilitation of water infrastructure in southwest

9. (U) According to Pretner, the MOE is very pleased with
the Iraq Foundation as a partner and views the close
cooperation with the Iraqi ministries and Iraqi experts as a
particular strength of New Eden.


10. (U) While this project helps address a critical
environmental need for Iraqi, Italy hopes New Eden will
generate contracts for water infrastructure, a field where
Italian firms believe they are particularly competitive. In
this sense, New Eden is similar to the Iraqi Transport
Master Plan, another planning initiative partially funded by
the Italian Government, with its goal of steering contracts
to Italian companies. END COMMENT.

12. (U) Post would be happy to share documents related to
the New Eden project. Contact Econoff Gregory May at


2004ROME01092 - Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

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