OOS 29-6
Every precious drop: Traditional management of wetlands, wadis, and water

Tuesday, August 11, 2015: 3:20 PM
327, Baltimore Convention Center
Michelle L. Stevens, Environmental Studies, California State University, Sacramento, CA
Background/Question/Methods Water is vital to emotional, physical and spiritual well-being to all cultures and all ecosystems throughout the world. This research compares and synthesizes western ecological knowledge, traditional ecological knowledge, and traditional resource management to evaluate cultural and ecological resiliency using three case studies. Specific examples include the Azraq wetlands in Jordan; the Marsh Arabs and Mesopotamian Marshes of Southern Iraq; and Native Californian tending of culturally significant resources on the Cosumnes River in Northern California.  In Arabic, traditional ecological knowledge is referred to as al hima in Arabic, referring to a “protected place” or commons; this system is being used to protect wetlands and water systems in the Middle East al himais the most widespread and longstanding indigenous / traditional conservation institution in the Middle East. All three countries are currently facing serious water shortage crises that are expected to become more severe over time. A basin-wide planning instrument that protects downstream riparian’s claims to use of water as well as improving social justice, living and economic conditions, and the rights of indigenous people is an essential approach to reducing regional conflicts over water. Cultural knowledge is being forgotten or marginalized when competition for water is fierce.


In Iraq, the marsh ecosystem is adapted to human management for five thousand years; maintaining the cultural resiliency and traditional knowledge of the Marsh Arab society must be prominent in restoration, social justice and equitable water management. Marsh Arab women have lost traditional knowledge of cultural and socioeconomic activities with the desertification of the marsh environment. These women have lost their way of life, the benefits derived from the goods and services provided by the marshes, and the freedom and privileges derived from living in the marsh environment. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature woks with local communities to create a source of employment and livelihood using the Reserves’ natural beauty and wildlife. Unfortunately, availability of access to traditional plant materials and traditional management practices by Native Californians is often missing from contemporary land management and conservation practices. Retaining cultural knowledge is an important legacy for sustainable ecological restoration and conservation of biodiversity. Indigenous management models contribute to water conservation, building resiliency into both ecological and cultural health. Stakeholder groups from the basin to family and community scale need to implement programs to preserve indigenous knowledge, ancient skills and cultural heritage.