In 1991, the Marsh Arabs of Iraq revolted against the government of Saddam Hussein. Hussein responded by undertaking self-declared development projects in the Marshlands, draining the region of water. Without the ability to practice traditional economic and social activities, which relied on their proximate environment, the majority of the Marsh Arab community was displaced. The project resulted in the desertification of an area nearly the size of the Aral Sea, what archeologists have described as environmental genocide. In 2003, the US government embarked on a restoration program to divert water back to the marshlands and improve the available social services in marsh region. The project has succeeded in restoring a significant proportion of the marshes. However, large numbers of the Marsh Arabs have not returned to the land, calling into question such a project’s ability to achieve more than environmental regeneration. This thesis examines the effects of environmental destruction and restoration on a community and its culture, using the Marsh Arabs as a case study. It asks whether the US-led environmental restoration program has restored the Marsh Arabs’ culture. This thesis argues that the Hussein’s development project led to cultural loss that was not rectified by the American restoration program. In making this argument the thesis examines changes in: a) the economic activities, daily tasks and routines of the Marsh Arabs; and b) the transmission of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) to younger generations.


Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Degree Name

MA in Migration & Refugee Studies

Graduation Date


Submission Date

January 2018

First Advisor

Morrison, Ian

Committee Member 1

Natarajan, Usha

Committee Member 2

Heck, Gerda


99 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis


The author retains all rights with regard to copyright. The author certifies that written permission from the owner(s) of third-party copyrighted matter included in the thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study has been obtained. The author further certifies that IRB approval has been obtained for this thesis, or that IRB approval is not necessary for this thesis. Insofar as this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study is an educational record as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 USC 1232g), the author has granted consent to disclosure of it to anyone who requests a copy.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item


Ryoichi Sasakawa Endowed Young Leaders Fellowships Fund (SYLFF) Program