Eden in Iraq

Eden In Iraq is a humanitarian water remediation project, expressed through environmental art and wastewater garden design, which will provide urgently needed health and clean water for southern Iraqis, their children, and future generations to come.

Our solution utilizes simple and sustainable wastewater recycling technology to support a garden that embodies the rich cultural heritage and tradition of the marshes and the Marsh Arab community.

After eight years (2011-Present) of intensive fieldwork, groundwork, and design preparation, we have received initial funding from the Iraq Ministry of Water Resources and will break ground soon to build a 26,500 square meter (6.5 acre) Public Wastewater Garden with the support and aid of our in-country partner, the renowned environmental NGO, Nature Iraq. Fall 2019 brings more planning and on the ground organization in Iraq.

Dr. Davide Tochetto returned in September  to direct the initial  construction details. It has been an unusually wet year with the marshes at 85% capacity so earth is being moved  to build up the site. By February we will be ready to plant the first reed beds. In the meantime project director, Meridel Rubenstein, will return in November  to organize further details with the Ministry. It is hoped that they will continue to fund additional stages to complete the entire garden design.

The wastewater garden features locally significant design details making  it a public site that emphasizes cultural heritage, while restoring health and offering ecological education.


The marshes in southern Iraq, formed by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, are home to one of humanity’s oldest cultures. The Marsh Arabs developed their unique way of life around the resources of the marsh, once the third largest wetlands in the world. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers cross on the eastern edge of the marshes at the Shatt al-Arab, and this intersection is thought to be a possible site of the historic Garden of Eden.

In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein’s forces secretly drained the immense Southern Iraq wetlands, to punish the Shi’a rebels hiding there. They transformed it into a desert and murdered tens of thousands of Marsh Arabs which compelled hundreds of thousands more to flee. Conflict and violence altered the Marshlands into a desiccated parcel, disturbing its ecological composition, and leaving detrimental vestiges that pose serious challenges to its survival.

Since Hussein’s demise in 2003, three hundred thousand of the expelled Marsh Arabs have returned to re-green and restore the marshes, with the help of Nature Iraq. Due to the rapid environmental changes in the marshes, with the return of inhabitants, serious sewage and health problems have ensued.


Where a symbiotic, sustainable relationship once existed in the marshes balanced perfectly by healthy reeds, water buffalo trade, and rice and date cultivation, the system is now unstable. Waste has been piling up and the Euphrates River has become seriously polluted, putting the Marshlands and the Marsh Arab community at peril.


There is currently no sewage treatment in the Marsh Arab towns and cities–at most, sewage is pumped into a collection site and discharged without treatment into a river or marsh. This is causing odor and damage to the long-term ecology of the marshes and the health of the community.



The inauguration of Iraq’s first national park in 2013, the Mesopotamian Marshes, demonstrates the country’s hope for environmental restoration and future tourism.

In July 2016, UNESCO designated the marshes and surrounding ancient sites of Eridu, Uruk and Ur a World Heritage Site. Due to this recent designation, the traditional arts, crafts, and cultural heritage of the Marsh Arabs and the ancient Mesopotamian societies, as well as the landscape and biodiversity of the marshes, are being revived and preserved.

We plan to build the very first demonstration Wastewater Garden in El Chibaish, in Southern Iraq, in order to help the Marsh Arab communities, in the process of rebuilding their war-devastated homeland, solve issues of sewage, renew environ- mental stability and conserve a natural environment of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). This first demonstration garden will also be a Public Environmental Art site that honors and celebrates the rich Marsh Arab culture.




Our site in El Chibaish is 26,250 square meters (6.4 acres), which allows for treatment of the sewage wastewater of 7,500 people. Currently, this wastewater is being discharged along an open canal and channeled in to the marshes.

The constructed wetland treatment will start with 7,000 square meters of reeds, which grow 1.8 meters tall. This first reed bed will immediately diminish the odor from the sewage. The wastewater will then go into the second phase of the gar-den: the “subsurface flow wetland.” Here, organic material of the sewage will be transformed by bacteria into mineral substances, cleaning the wastewater and simultaneously creating a beautiful and culturally significant garden by providing nutrients for plants and fruit trees. Design elements will demonstrate the rich cultural heritage of the marsh people by incorporating local materials and crafts, including earthen brick (adobe), woven reed, and ceramic tile.

The garden will call attention to Mesopotamian design and history. Woven embroidered Mesopotamian Wedding blanket patterns have inspired the garden’s blueprint and layout of its planting areas. The designs of this ancient woven craft are inspired by “nature and its biological diversity and also the spirit of ancestors” within Marsh Arab culture, and are passed down to new generations.

3,000-5,000 year old Sumerian Cylinder seals will inspire graphic design elements and ceramic wall reliefs. We plan to utilize this style of ornamentation as a means of decorating the garden in collaboration with inhabitants.


Sustainable reed architecture, in use for over 7,000 years, provides shade and respite from heat while allowing fractal light to enter interior spaces. This easily assembled construction method will be used in the garden for shade structures and viewing towers. Earthen brick, an ancient building material well suited for the desert and prized for its thermal stability, will supplement the reed architecture. It is envisioned that small local businesses will be able use the site to sell crafts, produce, and food.


Between 2014 and 2016, three of the largest town councils in the region enthusiastically approved of our garden by donating the use of five large sites, each serving 5-10,000 people. They understood that their current situation endangers both their health and the health of the wetlands.

During the design and planning process throughout the past 5 years, our project has been received and approved by local, provincial, state and environmental authorities.

With the support of mayor Mr. Badeaa Al-kayoun, and regional governor of Dhi Qar, Mr. Yahya al-Nasiri, we have chosen to build our first constructed wetland and wastewater garden at El Chibaish, along the north bank of the Euphrates River, in the Central Marshes. The city is an important urban area along the main road from Nasiriyah and Basrah. We hope this initial garden will serve as an important example of how this system could be implemented elsewhere within the country.

In 2013, the initial part of this project was funded through a $65,000 Ministry of Education Tier 1 Research Grant awarded to Assistant Professor Peer Sathikh and Visiting Associate Professor Meridel Rubenstein from the School of Art, Design and Media of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in collaboration with Dr. Sander van Der Leeuw, Dr. Mark Nelson, and Dr. Davide Tocchetto. This initial grant allowed our international team to research and design the garden, with numerous trips to the site. In addition, the university awarded $36,500 to exhibit all aspects of the project (designs, photographs, videos and writing) at the National Design Centre in Singapore.


Download our full project plan here.

Garden Design drawings here:

The following images are installation shots from Meridel Rubenstein’s exhibition Eden in Iraq at the National Design Centre of Singapore, Fall 2017: Wall Text and Images from NDC Exhibition. Exhibition Installation Images.

Four channel video installation, on display at the National Design Centre in 2017 as well as Currents New Media Festival 2018: