‘Essentially, these are small projects – working models that can be replicated by the Iraqis or other backers who become involved,’ says a UNEP spokesperson. ‘The eventual aim would be to restore the entire region, but this is not going to happen with $11 million. Our key focus is on bringing clean water to the Iraqis who are actually living there. You have to keep an open mind about fully restoring the marshland – it may not be possible, and it may not be desirable.’

Besides the drainage operations carried out by the former regime, the 10,830-square-kilometre habitat, long regarded as the location of the Garden of Eden, was also damaged by the construction of new dams on the Tigris and Euphrates. By 2001, UNEP estimates that 90 per cent of the wetlands had disappeared, with an additional 325 square kilometres disappearing the following year. Some 3,000 square kilometres have been re-flooded since the invasion, although the lack of controlled sanitation, water and wastewater services has led to a surge in water-borne diseases.