Among the unique wetlands of southern Iraq, the people known as the Ma'dan, the “Arabs of the marsh,” lived in the Venice of Mesopotamia, living on beautifully elaborate floating homes made of reeds harvested from the open water.
They're known as 'mudhif' and relatively little is known about them. They're built without nails, wood or glass, instead using compacted mud and rushes. Despite the ornate appearance of the homes, all construction is done in less than three days.
Ancient plain-dwellers have used this construction method for thousands of years, but nowadays this exotic architecture style is nearly extinct.
During the 20th century, when Iraq fell into the hands of dictator Saddam Hussein, he saw fit to eradicate the last of the floating homes as they'd become a refuge area for escaped serfs and slaves.
Hussein drained the wetlands of southern Iraq during the 1991 uprisings as a punishment to the Arabs who'd backed the uprising undermining his rule.
To disrupt the flow of water to the marshes, the Iraqi government revived an old 1970s irrigation project that would eliminate their food source. Villages were burned down and their lush gardens converted into desert. The remaining water was poisoned.
There was a mass exodus from the settlements to other areas of Iraq and Iranian refugee camps. Roughly 1,600 of the estimated half a million Marsh Arabs from the 1950s continued living in their traditional homes at the dawn of the new millenium.
In 2003, when local communities began breaching Hussein's dikes, after the US occupation of Iraq, recovery efforts finally began for the Marsh Arabs. The four-year drought finally ended and the wetlands were restored to nearly their 1970’s levels.
Although the wildlife and natural ecosystems will take a very long time to reappear, the returning homeowners were also greeted with broken infrastructure, no clean potable water and no health care facilities.
Nature Iraq is an organization founded by an Iraqi-American hydraulic engineer. He returned to Iraq from his emigration to California to restore the marshes and return Iraq's wetlands back to health.
It's the custom of the Ma'dan community to always give help to those in need. These days, the reed home serves as a guest house, community center and meeting center where Iraqis and foreign aid workers discuss the best ways to restore this historic community to its former glory.