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Iraqi marshes face environmental crisis

10:50am EDT - 01:40

High level of saline in the waters of Iraq's southern wetlands have pushed the fragile ecosystem past the tipping point. Marsh dwellers are abandoning their lands as an ongoing drought is killing off local wildlife and fish at unprecedented rates. Edward Baran reports.

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All may look calm on the surface -- but Iraq's marshes are facing a crisis. Drought and a high saline level in the water is a threat to aquatic life, livestock, and the livelihood of local communities. With water levels in the streams feeding the marshes continuing to fall, the increased salinity is killing a large number of fish. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) DIRECTOR OF THE AGRICULTURAL ENGINEERS ASSOCIATION OF BASRA, HASHIM AL BADRAN, SAYING: "Now water levels have fallen in huge percentages, and salinity increased because as you know the salinity in general is high in the mainstream, so when the water dries, it will leave salt behind, and as salinity increases, it kills the fish." The problem means animals such as these water buffaloes face health problems and can no longer drink from the marshes And the advancement of the Islamic State has further complicated the situation. The militants seized control of Iraq's biggest dam in August 2014, giving them the ability to flood major cities or withhold water from farms. Local fishermen say many families have left the area of the marshes, while others struggle to survive. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) FISHERMAN IN THE MARSHES, SAYID SAFAA, SAYING: "The water is salty, our livestock died. We have to buy the water for our animals, spending 5,000 to 6,000 dinars a day, in addition to drinking water. All the fish in the marsh died. The water now is bad, all the families now are tired and frustrated about where to go. Some of them left and others stayed and are trying to fix the tragedy." Environmentalists predict the water shortage in Iraq's marshes will not improve anytime soon. For the hardy souls who stay here to make their living, there may be more tough times ahead.

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Iraqi marshes face environmental crisis

10:50am EDT - 01:40