Unesco Green Citizens

Eden in Iraq WasteWater Garden Project

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Project begin: 14/04/2014

Meridel Rubenstein and the Eden In Iraq team co-created this project with the goal of providing effective sewage treatment for the marsh arab community, one of the world’s oldest cultures, in southern Iraq. Currently, untreated sewage endangers both their health and the historic marshes.

The final aim: Eden In Iraq will transform human waste into a public wastewater garden and cultural heritage park using green plant’s phyto-remediation.

Eden In Iraq is a humanitarian water remediation project, expressed through wastewater garden design and environmental art, which will provide urgently needed health and clean water for southern Iraqis, their children, and future generations to come. Their solution utilizes simple and sustainable wastewater recycling technology to support a garden that embodies the rich cultural heritage and tradition of the marshes and the Marsh Arab community.

After seven years of intensive fieldwork, groundwork, and design preparation, they seek funds to realize this important ecological and cultural heritage project. they are ready to break ground on their given site in El Chibaish to begin the first third of the 26,500 square meter (6.5 acre) Public Wastewater Garden. Eden In Iraqseek a total of $1.7 million dollars to complete the detailed floral and cultural heritage design work for the entire garden in 2021.The wastewater garden features locally significant design details, making it a public site that emphasizes cultural heritage, while restoring health and offering ecological education.


-In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein’s forces secretly drained the immense Southern Iraq wetlands to punish the Shi’a rebels hiding there. They transformed it into a desert, murdering tens of thousands of Marsh Arabs and compelling hundreds of thousands more to flee. Conflict and violence altered the Marshlands into a decimated parcel, disturbing its ecological composition, and leaving detrimental vestiges that still pose serious challenges to its survival.

-Since Hussein’s demise in 2003, three hundred thousand of the expelled Marsh Arabs have returned to re-green and restore the marshes, with the help of Nature Iraq NGO their sponsor. Due to the rapid environmental changes in the marshes, with the return of inhabitants, serious sewage and health problems have ensued. There is currently no sewage treatment in the Marsh Arab towns and cities–at most, sewage is pumped into a collection site and discharged without treatment into a river or marsh. This is causing odour and damage to the long-term ecology of the marshes and the health of the community.

The inauguration of Iraq’s first national park in 2013, the Mesopotamian Marshes National Park, demonstrates the country’s hope for environmental restoration and future tourism.
In July 2016, UNESCO designated the marshes and surrounding ancient sites of Eridu, Uruk and Ur, a World Heritage Site. Due to this recent designation, the traditional arts, crafts, and cultural heritage of the Marsh Arabs and the ancient Mesopotamian societies, as well as the landscape and biodiversity of the marshes, are being revived and preserved.

Eden In Iraq plans to build the very first demonstration Wastewater Garden in El Chibaish, Southern Iraq, in order to help the Marsh Arab communities, in the process of rebuilding their war-devastated homeland, solve issues of sewage, renew environmental stability and conserve a natural environment of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

Between 2014 and 2016, three of the largest town councils in the region enthusiastically approved of their garden by donating the use of five large sites, each serving 5-10,000 people. They understood that their current situation endangers both their health and the health of the wetlands. With the support of mayor Mr. Badeaa Al-kayoun, and regional governor of Dhi Qar, Mr. Yahya al-Nasiri, Eden In Iraq chose to build the first constructed wetland and wastewater garden at El Chibaish, along the north bank of the Euphrates River, in the Central Marshes. The city is an important urban area along the main road from Nasiriyah and Basra. Eden In Iraq hope this initial garden will serve as an important example of how this system can be implemented elsewhere within the country.

The site in El Chibaish is 26,250 square meters (2.5 hectares/6.4 acres), which allows for treatment of the sewage wastewater of 7,500 people. Currently, this wastewater is being discharged along an open canal and channeled into the marshes. It has a terrible smell and is unhealthy for all the boat traffic through the canal to the marshes.
The constructed wetland treatment will start with 7,000 square meters of reeds, which grow 1.8 meters tall. This first reed bed will immediately diminish the odor from the sewage. The wastewater will then go into the second phase of the garden: the “subsurface flow wetland.” Here, organic material of the sewage will be transformed by bacteria into mineral substances, cleaning the wastewater and simultaneously creating a beautiful and culturally significant garden by providing nutrients for plants and fruit trees. 

The garden will draw attention to Mesopotamian design and history. Woven embroidered Mesopotamian Wedding blanket patterns have inspired the garden’s blueprint and layout of its planting areas. The designs of this ancient woven craft are inspired by “nature and its biological diversity and also the spirit of ancestors”* within Marsh Arab culture, and are being passed down to new generations. 3,000-5,000 year old Sumerian Cylinder seals will inspire graphic design elements and ceramic wall reliefs.  Drawings and Blueprints are available. Eden In Iraq are ready to build…


Meridel Rubenstein, Project Director, conceptualized Eden In Iraq as a symbolic restoration of the fabled Garden of Eden. The Marsh Arabs, descendants of the original people of this historic area, are a preeminent example of refugees returning from exodus to their homeland. Rubenstein is an adjunct Professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, 2015-.  She was a Visiting Associate Professor at the School of Art, Design, and Media at Nanyang Technological University(NTU), 2007-18. She is also an internationally recognized artist working at the intersection of nature and culture, especially in relationship to ecological and social imbalance. Her photography, site-specific installations and research practice demonstrate skilled communication and collaboration with distinct groups around cultural and environmental issues. She has received numerous grants and awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her work has been featured in exhibitions and publications worldwide. Her art and design studio is in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

Jassim Al Asadi is the managing director of the regional Southern Iraq office of Nature Iraq (NGO). He has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the University of Technology, Baghdad, 1980, and extensive work experience as an engineer on water remediation projects throughout Iraq. He was Director of the socio-economic studies section for CRIM (Center for Restoration of Iraqi Marshlands) from 2003-05, and for MWoR (Ministry of Water Resources) from 1985-2003.
He has participated in numerous international meetings and conferences on the Iraqi wetlands, held in Switzerland, Italy, Jordan and Egypt. He also participated in the Strategic Plan for the Wetlands, the architectural sites in Iraq and the infrastructure planning in Southern Iraq.
He has lectured internationally: at the Workshop on Sustainable Communities, Cairo, 2006, UNEP meetings with Iraqi MoWR, Amman 2004, the International Conference of Donor Nations on Iraqi Marshlands, Venice, Italy, 2004, and workshops in Iraq related to the Iraqi Marshlands 2004-2012. He was the driving force at Nature Iraq to help bring the designation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site to the marshes and the ancient sites in 2016.

Mark Nelson, PhD, is a founding director of the Institute of Ecotechnics and has worked for several decades in closed ecological system research, ecological engineering, the restoration of damaged ecosystems, desert agriculture and wastewater recycling. He is Chairman and CEO of the Institute of Ecotechnics (www. ecotechnics.edu), a U.K. and U.S. non-profit organization, which consults to several demonstration projects working in challenging biomes around the world, and head of Wastewater Gardens International (www.wastewatergardens.com). He has written many books and has helped pioneer a new ecological approach to sewage treatment, “Wastewater Gardens®” which are constructed subsurface flow wetlands with high biodiversity and has created such systems over 150 countries. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Explorers Club and the World Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In one of Dr. Nelson’s book, features an essay on the Eden in Iraq Project with photographs by Meridel Rubenstein. 

Davide Tocchetto holds a PhD in environmental agronomy. Presently, he is a lecturer of Agronomy at an Italian high school. He developed his first career at Padova University with research in sustainable agriculture and wastewater treatment with constructed wetlands. He was a founding member of a University start-up to develop a water treatment patent. He was awarded an Innovation Prize for the “Techia” floating wetland patent and the “2008 start-up of the year” prize in Italy.
He is a freelance partner with numerous national and international companies in developing varying projects in different fields of operation outside of Italy. He was also a partner in the United Nations project “Green School for Gaza” where he studied and developed (with MCA Architects and UNRWA) the whole water circle and reuse system in a new school in the Gaza Strip. 

Zahra Souhail ,Project Manager, is a Dutch-Iraqi, born in Baghdad and raised in the Netherlands. She is a certified project manager with more than 10 years of professional experience working at some of the largest corporations in the Netherlands including Achmea and presently for the Municipality of Amsterdam. Having survived war and turmoil in her native country, Zahra is passionate about civil society and volunteering. She is a firm believer in the importance of education and knowledge exchange in the development of children and societies at large that have suffered from conflict and violence. Since 2018, Zahra has been a contributing member and Project Manager of the Eden of Iraq Wastewater Garden Project, a humanitarian water remediation project to provide urgently needed health and clean water for southern Iraqis, their children, and future generations to come. Fluent in English, Arabic and Dutch, Zahra is a keen explorer and has visited more than 40 cities around the globe. Traveling satisfies her curiosity about different people, cultures and history. 

In October 2019 Eden In Iraq were set to receive funds from the Iraq Ministry of Water Resources to begin building the first third of the wastewater garden this past winter with workers and equipment commensurate with $250,000.   This would immediately remove the sewage odour from the marshes. Just as they prepared to return to build, popular protests erupted causing the fall of the National government. The newly approved Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani, has written a new letter of support for the project. But with the fall in oil prices and Covid-19 affecting the Iraqi economy, the National Budget of which they once were part, is very diminished. New elections are now set for June 2021. So huge changes lie ahead but they will continue their fundraising efforts elsewhere until they can return.


Leading organisation: Nature Iraq NGO
Covered Countries: Iraq
Theme: Biodiversity, Education for Sustainable Development, Hydrology, Indigenous and Local Knowledge
Sub-themes: Access to water, Cultural diversity, Environment, Environment, Groundwater management, Knowledge sharing, Knowledge sharing, Natural resource management, Sustainable lifestyles, Sustainable lifestyles, Sustainable living, Waste management, Waste management, Water education, Water resource management, Water sanitation, Water scarcity and quality
Selection: 2020
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Initial Problem

The initial problem, after a time of great upheaval, was the need for sanitation in an ancient overlooked and struggling indigenous region of Iraq.

The marshes in southern Iraq, formed by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, are home to one of humanity’s oldest cultures. The Marsh Arabs developed their unique way of life around the resources of the marsh, once the third largest wetland in the world. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers cross on the eastern edge of the marshes at the Shatt al-Arab; this intersection is thought to be a possible site of the historic Garden of Eden. 

Since the dictator Saddam Hussein’s demise in 2003, three hundred thousand of the expelled Marsh Arabs have returned to re-green and restore their violently drained marshes, with the help of th NGO, Nature Iraq, their sponsor. Due to the rapid environmental changes in the marshes, with the return of inhabitants, serious sewage and health problems have ensued.

The efforts of Nature Iraq, their Iraqi sponsor, to regreen the marshes and culture, are legendary. For those millions of migrants afloat in Europe today, the Marsh Arabs of the Mesopotamian marshes in S. Iraq offer a stunning example of a violently displaced people returning home to regreen and restore their decimated land.

The positive impacts that the project has made:

Eden in Iraq WasteWater Garden Project has helped to create awareness about the plight of Marsh Arabs and the Mesopotamian marshes, one of the most terrible environmental disasters of the 20th century. They have done this by numerous lectures, public presentations, conferencing, publications, and exhibitions since 2011 .
They have also interacted with countless Iraqis including local inhabitants, government officials, ambassadors, and business people and have been met with deep gratitude for their efforts by government officials, local and regional citizens, young and old. It has been particularly gratifying to have women as Project Director and Project Manager, setting an examples for young girls.
Eden in Iraq has challenged the idea of sewage being a poison instead of a nutrient and given an example of a sustainable ecological system that can bring beauty and nourishment.

The impacted areas and population :

The Marsh Arabs, Iraq as a whole and impoverished communities throughout. Two of their team members, Dr. Mark Nelson and Dr. Davide Tocchetto, are well known environmental engineers who have made wastewater gardens in Algeria, Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia, also helping the local communities of these countries.

The obstacles and challenges

Eden In Iraq has been very lucky in that the wastewater technology they are proposing is absolutely the correct method for Iraq at this time in terms of cost, simplicity, and the state of water pollution throughout the entire country. Since they began in 2011, Eden In Iraq has had many setbacks mainly due to the instability of the country, as this last series of events can testify. Eden In Iraq actually had done all of the in-country leg work to begin breaking ground by last December.

It is important to remember how new the country is and the tremendous effect of the outside forces that have tried to control Iraq. They have the support now right up to the Prime Minister’s office. All that stands in their way is funding. They are ready to build. The country itself is made of very strong determined people but funds, most likely, will have to come from outside until the Iraq treasury can convert from oil revenues to sustainable enterprises.



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