By Anna Sophia Bachmann, MES 1997.
Floating down the Tigris River in October 2013 is actually the culmination of long journey that started in January of 2003 when I arrived in Baghdad after a 15-hour journey overland from Amman, Jordan. I was there as a protest to the pending war in Iraq and to see the situation for myself. I remember waking up on a crisp but hazy morning and looking down at the Tigris as it sparkled, running wide and swift through the center of the city. I thought what a great river it would be to float. The following year I returned to Baghdad and spent many days on the river to organize a sampling trip on the river with the Ministry of Environment in Baghdad. Crazy times featuring floating in a river of sewage, seeing medical waste drift by after we passed the big public hospital, facing some very jittery security personnel with cocked guns who later threw us apples, being buzzed by Apache helicopters along the Green Zone, and watching Mandaeans conduct their ancient baptism rites in the river.
In 2005, I joined the Iraqi environmental group Nature Iraq to work on biodiversity conservation and water resource protection. With them I was able to start the first branch in the Middle East of the international Waterkeeper Alliance centered on the upper Tigris Basin of Kurdistan, northern Iraq.
This year, Nature Iraq organized the Tigris River Flotilla, which started in the ancient town of Hasenkeyf, southeast Turkey on 15 September, to promote the ancient cultural links that the Tigris River represents between Iraq and Turkey. We hoped to raise awareness and build support for addressing the numerous threats of pollution and mismanagement affecting a river once purported to flow through the Garden of Eden. A mixture of modern and traditional boats was used on the Flotilla (because boats are just natural tools for awareness-raising). My job on the Flotilla was to conduct the water quality monitoring and threat assessment. Due to bad security in many areas, we weren’t able to float the entire river from southeast Turkey to southern Iraq but we spent a total of 30 days on the river and what struck me during this time was the sorrow and concern people expressed over the decline of the river and their sincere wish to see the Tigris River once again restored.
If you want to learn my about my personal journey down the Tigris River and in Iraq, check out my blog at peacework.blogspot.com You can also can check out the Flotilla facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/TheTigrisRiverFlotilla.
More information can be found at www.natureiraq.org.