One of the six winners of the prestigious Goldman Prize, Azzam Alwash, played a key role in restoring the marshes in Southern Iraq that had been drained by Saddam Hussein as punishment of the people who lived there.
"The vast Mesoptomian marshes in southern Iraq were said to be the site of the original Garden of Eden. On their fringes have risen and fallen 12,000 years of Sumerian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Persian and Arab civilisations. Organised farming is thought to have begun here, as did the first cities and writing. In legend, Gilgamesh fell asleep on the water side and let slip from his fingers the plant of eternal youth. Abraham was said to have been born here and explorers like Sir Wilfred Thesiger made their name here.
But when Iraqi-born engineer Azzam Alwash returned in 2003 after 25 years away, he found a devastated land. Instead of the vast and unique freshwater world, all that remained was an arid, polluted, dried-out wilderness where reeds did not grow, no one lived and nothing was farmed.
Saddam Hussein had drained thousands of square kilometres of the marshland that had once been fed by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in an effort to punish the people who lived there. It was an ecological and cultural disaster that the UN ranked alongside the destruction of the Aral sea or the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest."