Hawizeh Marsh is part of the famous Mesopotamian marshes that lies in southern Iraq. It was designated as a Ramsar Site in 2008 when the country joined the Ramsar Convention.
In 2014, Nature Iraq, a national NGO, received funding from the Ramsar small grants fund to implement the ‘Hawizeh Stakeholder Project’ that aimed at improving the management effectiveness of the Ramsar Site by raising awareness of the local communities about the opportunities and challenges of conserving the Site and ensuring their participation in key decision making processes.
The project surveyed a large number of the locals who live within and around the Site to better understand the drivers of the changing conditions and deteriorating resources at the Hawizeh Marsh. A variety of awareness raising activities were designed and carried out to disseminate to the local communities the survey results that included the major threats to the marsh and its resources and how the locals can contribute to and become involved in promoting the conservation and wise use of the wetland.
A workshop to discuss the management options of Hawizeh Marsh Ramsar Site was held on the 16 of April, 2015 involving representatives of the local communities. The workshop was also attended by the officials of the relevant ministries, local government, tribal leaders, farm associations, and civil society organizations. During this workshop, a Local Stakeholder Advisory Group (LSAG) was established. The LSAG is a mechanism and a conduit through which local stakeholders’ inputs and concerns about the management of Hawizeh Marsh Ramsar Site can be voiced to the National Ramsar Committee. Made up from representatives of the key community groups at Hawizeh Marsh, the LSAG meets on a regular basis and helps the National Ramsar Committee manage the marsh by functioning as both a source for advice and a proving ground for policies and activities that are developed by the National Ramsar Committee to manage the marshlands.
Both the community survey and the discussions at the workshop pointed out the need to reduce pressure on the marsh by promoting a wiser use of the marsh resources and creating livelihood alternatives for the locals. Some of the alternatives, as proposed by the community members during the survey, include creating fish ponds, promoting traditional industries (reed baskets, mats etc) and acquiring the skills needed for employment in the oil fields near Hawizeh Marsh.
In October 2015, the project supported the marsh communities to take a step forward towards making their voices heard at high level decision making by sending their representatives to a national conference, organized in Baghdad, to discuss and find solutions to mitigate the impacts of years-long severe drought on the marsh environment and the people who depend on the marsh for their survival and livelihoods. The recommendations from the conference have now been forwarded to the Prime Minister and Nature Iraq will follow up on next steps with the Iraqi Government.