Still suffering

Published: Friday 15 November 2002

More than a decade after cessation of hostilities, the Gulf region continues to reel under the ravages of war. Kuwait recently revealed that oil well fires ignited by Iraqi troops in the 1991 war and measures taken to extinguish them had caused greater environmental damage than previously thought.

Submitting a report to the United Nations Compensation Commission (uncc), Khaled Ahmed Al Mudhaf, chairperson of Kuwait's public authority for assessment of damages resulting from the Iraqi aggression, cited widespread harm to freshwater supplies and the soil. According to experts, the findings could increase a us $17-billion claim already submitted by Kuwait for environmental damage during Iraq's invasion.

Hydrocarbons from destroyed oil wells and salt from seawater used to douse the fires were "steadily and irreversibly infiltrating into fresh groundwater aquifers and rendering (the groundwater) completely unsuitable for human consumption unless treated", revealed Mudhaf. In addition, a hardened layer of sand and oil caused by bursting oil wells covered 350 square kilometres (sq km) and not 210 sq km as stated in Kuwait's pending claim.

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