Evaluation of the Ecosystem Services of the Central Marsh in Southern Iraq
Nadheer A. Fazaa1,2 Jonathon C. Dunn2 Mark J. Whittingham2
Ecosystems provide humans with services that include benefits from food, fresh water, climate regulation, and socio-economic assets. The Mesopotamian marshlands are among the largest wetlands in the Middle East and they provide various benefits. However, ecosystem services of the Marshlands are consistently undervalued in national economic analysis and decision making. This study focusses on the Central Marshes, the first National Park in Iraq, and is the first attempt at valuing a series of ecosystem services from a valuable natural ecosystem in Iraq. We adopted the Toolkit for Ecosystem Services Site-Based Assessment (TESSA) for the determination of biophysical and economic values of services at the site level. Data on key ecosystem services (as determined by 30 interviews with residents of the Marshes) included the trading of fish, harvested plants, water buffalo milk, and fodder were collected across six months in 2014. We valued the ecosystem services within the CM (40,000 ha) over a 6-month period to have a total value of 860,078.23 USD. This estimated total value was the sum of 86,637.25 USD from harvested plants, 551,334.80 USD from trading fish, 167, 303.70 USD from trading water buffalo milk, and 54,804.00 USD from trading fodder. The average income per individual in Iraq in 2014 was 6720 USD (World Bank data - https://data.worldbank.org/country/iraq): thus, the CM provided an average salary for 256 people. Our results provided greater understanding of the ecosystem services contributed by the Central Marshes and has highlighted the crucial role of nature in supporting sustainable well-being for humans living in the area. In addition, the results can be used to enhance local policy, to aid management plans of the National park, and to estimate lost and damage that could result from impact of climate change on the area.