The first was the determination of the local Marsh Arabs assisted by Iraq’s first environmental NGO, Nature Iraq (N.I.), to revive the dessicated Iraqi wetlands in 2003. Azzam Alwash and Jassim Al-Asadi were amongst the founders of N.I. They called the vast undertaking “Eden Again” as restoring water flow to the marshes would also allow the displaced Marsh Arabs to return to their ancient ways of life.
Artist, Meridel Rubenstein, also had a vision: the symbolic importance of a restoration of the fabled Garden of Eden, especially potent in a war-ravaged country like Iraq. She learned about Nature Iraq‘s “Eden Again,” contacted them, and put into motion our project – “Eden in Iraq.”
Meridel enlisted Dr. Mark Nelson, an ecological engineer and Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics (I.E.) in the U.S. and U.K. Mark had pioneered natural approaches to sewage treatment and reuse, making beautiful park-like areas of his constructed wetland systems which he called “Wastewater Gardens” around the world in fourteen countries. Mark an Meridel met with Azzam Alwash who put them in touch with Nature Iraq.
Nature Iraq is an Iraqi non-governmental organization registered in Iraq and accredited to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). They work to protect, restore and preserve Iraq’s natural environment and the rich cultural heritage it nourishes.
Meridel and Mark made their first visit to Southern Iraq in 2011, and, with Jassim Al-Asadi (the director of N.I. in the marshlands), made presentations to residents, local and national government officials, and Iraqi environmental scientists about the technology behind Wastewater Gardens. The proposal was warmly received as sewage problems were mounting with the return of so many Marsh Arabs to their homeland.
Meridel’s colleague at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art Design and Media (ADM/NTU), renowned industrial designer Peer M. Sathikh, had a strong interest in both contemporary Islamic art and environmental design. Together, they crafted a grant proposal and received an MOE Tier 1 Research Award in 2013, enabling the Design Team to be expanded and the project to move forward under the auspices of ADM/NTU.
We were then joined by Mark’s colleague from Wastewater Gardens International, Dr. Davide Tocchetto, an Italian agronomist and constructed wetland designer. In addition, Sander van der Leeuw, a distinguished archaeologist and complexity scientist with an extensive knowledge of the Ancient Middle East as well as contemporary low-tech solutions for development and sustainability, joined the team.