Behind current efforts to stabilize and rebuild, Iraq is the land of the Tigris
and Euphrates rivers, the Land of Eden, the cradle of civilization and the path
of the Fertile Crescent. These faraway names echo from the same ancient history
texts that spoke of Sparta, Genghis Khan, the Holy Crusades and Hannibal crossing
the Alps. Human history casts a long shadow over the land and its peoples. This
month we take an early glimpse at the conditions of the countrys water,
land and petroleum resources on the heels of a punishing regime and war.
Our first feature, Assessing Iraqs Oil Potential by Mohammad
Al-Gailani, highlights the countrys most famous modern resource, petroleum.
The country enjoys the second largest reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia
and that even before Iraq has been covered by 3-D seismic surveys, the
modern technology that has significantly increased discoveries, reserves and ultimately
production in other petroleum provinces of the world. The large size of known
fields will easily sustain an increase from pre-war production capacity of 3.5
million barrels of oil per day to the target production of 6 million barrels of
oil per day, Al-Gailani writes, assuming that current daily distractions and operating
problems can be overcome. The environmental community, naturally, is concerned
that such an expansion be achieved with minimal environmental impact. A similarly
long-range matter is that of converting the non-renewable petroleum resource into
a sustainable currency that will support the growth and stability
of Iraq ad infinitum.
In our second feature, Water, Agriculture and Land Cover: Lessons from the
Postwar Era, Mohamed Sultan and colleagues frame the water endowment and
agricultural history of the country, but quickly dispel any images of Mesopotamian
tranquility trickling down from that earth-breaking civilization. Iraqs
upstream neighbors Turkey, Iran and Syria threaten to further decrease
flows of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, endangering much of the 20 percent of
Iraqs land now used for farming. It would also further destroy the wetlands
that the countrys recent leadership reduced to a fraction of their former
productivity and size. So once again, resource conflicts threaten to overshadow
the inescapable challenges of resource technology, not the least of which include
water supply, salinization of soils, and the introduction of modern farming and
Staff Writer Naomi Lubick elaborates on the wetland issues in our third feature,
Iraqs Marshes Renewed. Based on remote sensing and recent post-war
visits by scientists, the historic marshlands are proving difficult to find. The
area of reeds, lakes and ephemeral marshes, the former home of the Mesopotamian
civilization and first known sites of agriculture, have been reduced from 20,000
square kilometers to only 7 percent of that size during recent decades. Dams near
the headwaters and diversions for irrigation account for most of the problem,
although retribution against marsh-dwelling insurgents may have also played a
role. Plans for restoration of at least a portion of this historic, productive
and ecologically significant area are already underway.
This months Comment, Reconstructing Afghanistan: Nation Building or
Nation Failure? by John F. Shroder Jr., continues our theme of resources
under conflict, but addresses an earlier stage in the fight against terrorism.
Readers may remember Shroders notes on Afghanistan in earlier issues of
Geotimes (March 1987, February
2002), when routing terrorists from caves was the primary challenge. Now,
the author says that reconstruction of the country is the matter at hand. In order
to bring the development of mineral resources along as part of the countrys
redevelopment, previously discussed investments from outside the country must
now be made. Shroder conveys some pessimism, saying: The wretched of that
benighted country certainly deserve better than the little that has been done
up to now.
A final note on this months Political Scene, Endowing the AGI Congressional
Fellowship by our editor, David Applegate: what a beautiful coincidence
of the accidental and the appropriate. Fundraising for the fellowship in honor
of William L. Fisher, long-time Texas state geologist, director of the Bureau
of Economic Geology and director of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University
of Texas, Austin, has progressed to the point that an announcement is appropriate.
Congressional science fellowships provide earth scientists with our most direct
opportunity to understand and affect the political process and public policy.
The timing may be accidental, but the focus of this months issue illustrates
that geoscientists have a great deal to contribute to some of the most pressing
issues of our time regarding resources and the environment. That, after all, is
what determined the recent history of, and will surely determine the future for,
Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunate we are in our country to have a leader of Bill
Fishers caliber for whom to build a permanently endowed fellowship.
Believe your compass,
Samuel S. Adams