Boat-building booms in Basra as Iraq marshes are restored

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The site of fisherman sailing on the Shatt al -Arab waterway had become a thing of the past.
But a recent revival of southern Iraq's marshlands is luring back fishermen and boat makers to the region.

The area was damned and drained by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s to flush out rebels following a Shi'ite uprising against his regime in 1991.

But the barren moonscape has once again become the scene of a rich ecosystem, with efforts underway to restore the fabled area, believed to be site of the biblical Garden of Eden.

As the marshlands thrive again, fishermen are taking to the waters. And among those who find themselves in demand are boat makers -- Dawood Salman is one of them.

“We stopped making boats in the 1990s when the marshes were drained, no one wanted boats any more. We completely abandoned the boat craft industry and resorted to other crafts. Some of us worked in construction, while others chose different crafts,” Salman said in his workshop.

“Now that the marshes are revived, we have started making small boats. It's an easy thing. There are fish, but not in large numbers.”

Basra once boasted one of the largest boat-making industries. But a shortage of raw materials and high prices of the vessels lead many craftsmen to abandon the industry.

But now, according to craftsmen here, new materials such as fiberglass, are being used to construct the vessels, making their work easier.

“Now, fiberglass makes it easy to make boats. So, instead of fitting each piece of wood, (we have) one-piece fiberglass --- you can finish most of the work in a day. The small boat now takes three to four days to be built while the wooden boat used to take ten days,” Salman said.

Most of Salman's customers are Marsh Arabs from nearby Nassirya city and Maysan province.
Despite the revival of boat-making, the industry is far from witnessing a boom. Older workers are retiring, and there are few youngsters willing to take over.

“Previously, the number of boat builders, in particular in Garmat Ali town, there were about 20 of them working in private workshops. Now there are two boat builders in this area, two others in Sahla town and one in the market area. There are only five builders left out of 20,” Salman added.

But for now locals are making the most of the newly-revived marshlands, and as well as improving the fortunes of the local inhabitants, Iraqis are hopeful the area will once again lure tourists to the region, with visitors coming to soak up the colorful scenery and vibrant ecosystem.

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