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Iraq To Revive Dead Farmland By Sucking Out Salt

Iraq started flushing excess salinity out of millions of acres of land Dec. 1 in a project aimed at cleansing rivers, breathing new life into dying soils and reviving what was once part of “the fertile crescent.”

Though Iraq is wetter and more arable than many of its desert-covered neighbours, centuries of irrigation and overuse have left swathes of farmland fallow because of salinity.

Salt collects in soil when farmers irrigate it with salty water or do not drain it properly. The soil gradually becomes useless.

“It’s a huge project: we are seeking to collect and drain all the salty water and remove groundwater from the centre and the south (of Iraq),” Water Resources Minister Abdul Latif Rasheed said at the launch of the project.

First thought up in the 1950s but frequently delayed by political upheaval, the project seeks to revive six million acres of land.

The area forms part of what historians call the fertile crescent, which stretches from the eastern Mediterranean into Iraq and down to the Gulf.

Farming in Iraq has been hit hard by decades of war, instability and poor environmental management. Iraq imports almost all of its food, using receipts from oil to pay for it. Much of the government’s budget is spent on food rations.

Harmful salinity can be reversed by pumping out the groundwater beneath the soil over several years. Such projects, though costly, have helped farmers reclaim salt-deadened land in Australia.

“What has been achieved sends out the message that we are capable of reconstruction, services and development for our country,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a ceremony.

The pumping station in Nassiriya, 300 km southeast of Baghdad, was started in the 1980s but war with Iran put it on hold and UN sanctions in the 1990s made it impossible to import parts to complete it.

Rasheed said the project would also help improve “the quality of water in Tigris and Euphrates rivers.”

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