Iraq’s historic Lake Sawa suffers from neglect

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One of the most well-known lakes in Iraq, Lake Sawa, is a large closed body of salt water situated in the desert between Baghdad and Basra.

The lake is dubbed by some as “the Pearl of the South” for its beauty and unique composition. It is surrounded by a cliff of piled sand dunes, providing a natural levee that keeps the water above ground level. And as the lake has no proven link to either river or sea, the source of its water has been a mystery to researchers for centuries.


“There are those who believe that the lake is linked to the red sea or to other remote lakes, while some people believe that the water of the lake come from rains of al-Dammam basin or from the west desert. There are different opinions, but the most likely is that the water of the lake comes from groundwater in this location,” says Dr. Ali Hussein, head of the Research and Studies Centre in Samawah University.

Four species of small fish and other aquatic organisms have been found in Lake Sawa, which stretches about four kilometers long and one kilometer wide, says Hussein.

“The studies proved that there are four species of small fish that grow to a certain size of 15 cm or 20 cm. The purpose of the fish and aquatic organisms in the lake is to feed migratory birds, but the fish themselves are not fit for human consumption [due to high fat content],” explains Hussein.

Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur, chlorine and carbonates are the essential elements that make up Lake Sawa’s water and, with further studies, could prove useful in treating skin conditions, says Hussein.

“There are many people who suffer from skin diseases in this area and in the surrounding areas. They come and swim in the lake for it [their condition] to improve, diseases, skin diseases. Yes, part of the answer is that yes it can be used as a natural cure for skin diseases. But this needs more research and studies to reach certain facts for it to be offered as a place that can treat certain types of skin diseases,’’ he says.

Lake Sawa was once a popular tourist destination attracting visitors from the nearby city of Samawah and all over the country. But years of neglect has turned the resort into a dilapidated ghost town, just like many other touristic and historic destinations in Iraq.

“There was a resort and it was teeming with tourists. There were also installations as you see. But it had been stolen and vandalized after the first Gulf War in 1990. The same thing happened in 2003,” laments geomorphologist Sa’ed Jassim.

The Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities is currently seeking investors to help with tourism projects in al-Diwaniyah province, according to local media, in an attempt to revive tourism in local landmarks including Lake Sawa.

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