Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vets in Iraq’s marshes take to water

Vets in Iraq’s marshes take to water

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Veterinarian Karrar Ibrahim Hindi (second left) sits in an ambulance boat as he heads to treat sick buffalos, in the marshes of Iraq’s southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, on March 26. AFP

Vets in Iraq’s marshes take to water

The small motorboat chugging through southern Iraq’s marshes is similar to those tourists use to explore the vast swamplands, the reputed home of the biblical Garden of Eden.

But this boat has a difference; it is used by veterinarians as an animal ambulance to bring critical healthcare for livestock, and especially the water buffalo iconic to the marshlands, facing an ever-growing threat from the impacts both of rampant pollution and climate change.

“This veterinary ambulance is the first and only initiative of its kind in the swamps of Iraq,” said veterinarian Karrar Ibrahim Hindi, as he headed out to treat a sick buffalo.

The swamps, nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and also known as the Mesopotamian Marshes,is one of the world’s largest inland deltas.

The wetlands barely survived the wrath of dictator Saddam Hussein, who ordered the marshes be drained in 1991 as punishment for communities protecting insurgents and to hunt them down.

But after Saddam was toppled, Iraq pledged to preserve the ecosystem and provide functional services to the marshland communities, and they were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016 both for their biodiversity and their ancient history.

Today, the people in the marshes eke out a living from breeding buffaloes, as well as fishing and tourism.

Buffalo milk is renowned throughout Iraq for the strength it is supposed to give to those who drink it, and farmers use it to make the creamy “guemar” cheese, a delicacy that delights Iraqis served on flat bread for breakfast.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Veterinarian Karrar Ibrahim Hindi examines a sick buffalo at a farm in the marshes of Iraq’s southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province on March 26. AFP

After his consultation, Hindi hopped back into the narrow boat, perfect for navigating the maze of thin channels.

He headed to another farm, with the homestead built in the traditional manner out of cut and woven reeds.

Climate change, salty water

There are an estimated 30,000 buffaloes in the wetlands, but herds vary in size. Some farmers have just a handful of animals, while others have as many as a hundred.

But when the buffaloes fall sick, the farmers have previously struggled to get proper veterinary treatment. Before, they had to guess why the animal was ill, and go to get drugs themselves.

“The farmer cannot transport it to town, so they risk making an incorrect diagnosis,” said Mukhtar Mohammed Said, director of the Iraqi Green Climate Organisation, which funds the buffalo boat project along with the French branch of the Vets Without Borders (VSF) aid group.

So with the farmers unable to bring their buffaloes to the vets, the vets go to visit by boat.

At the home of buffalo breeder Sabah Thamer, the vet team arrives to help his animals.

“Some herders don’t have money and they only have one or two buffaloes,” said Thamer, explaining that the vet services are free, but not the drugs the animals might need.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Veterinarian Karrar Ibrahim Hindi examines a sick buffalo at a farm in the marshes of Iraq’s southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, on March 26. AFP

“They don’t know how to get them treated,” Thamer added. “So the buffaloes get sick, their condition gets worse for two or three days and they die.”

Hindi, the vet, dressed in a spotless white coat and stethoscope draped around his neck, holds a buffalo by its neck with a gloved hand, checking its pulse and taking its temperature.

“The service reduces the distances between the breeders who live in the middle of the marshes and the veterinarians who have their practice in town,” said Hindi.

As well as the usual sickness the buffaloes face, the vets are helping the farmers confront the twin challenges of surging levels of sewage dumped into the waters, and the devastating impact of climate change with droughts growing in intensity.

In a country where the state lacks the capacity to guarantee basic services, 70 percent of Iraq’s industrial waste is dumped directly into rivers or the sea, according to data compiled by the United Nations and academics.

The UN classifies Iraq “as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world” to climate change, and the country whose ancient name is Mesopotamia (between rivers, in Greek) is hit by increasingly frequent and longer intense droughts.

The water level of the marshes keeps declining, a problem made worse by dam-building in neighbouring countries.

With that, the salinity of the water is rising, making the buffaloes weak.

“The animals suffer because too salty water favours diseases,” said biologist Omar al-Sheikhli, technical director of Green Climate.

“If this continues, even the strongest buffaloes will die”.

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

    Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people. Vath

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and