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Wars On Earth

April 30th, 2003 - by admin

by Mark Engler – TomPaine.com

http://tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/7624

(April 29, 2003) – With Kyoto in shambles and environmental laws under assault, Earth Day 2003 hardly possesses the feel-good air that hovered over the celebrations of the 1990s. More than ever, honoring the natural world impels us to resist those in power. With festivities taking place in the shadow of war, this Earth Day must also be a call for peace.

The environment has long been a silent casualty of war, suffering before, during, and after actual combat takes place. And, from assaults on ecosystems in the Persian Gulf to regulatory exemptions for US military activities here at home, the current war provides fresh lessons about how militarism goes hand in hand with ecological destruction.

Historically, the environmental impacts of military actions have drawn little attention. Self-proclaimed pragmatists like to shrug off the complaints of tree huggers as irrelevant next to grave matters of state. But while their reasoning may carry some weight in a case of obvious genocide, it is dishonest not to weigh often crushing environmental damage in the same balance with international interests and the human toll of war.

Even as the shooting in Baghdad dies down, past and future wars continue to claim victims on the environmental front worldwide. For example, the military industry’s development and testing of weaponry produces an endless stream of hazardous waste. Such activity has contaminated over 11,000 “hot spots” on 1,855 military facilities in the United States, according to the Defense Department’s own documents.

New data on the poisonous herbicides used to kill off Vietnam’s jungles and crops paint a grim portrait of how war devastates ecosystems and poses persistent threats to human health. Just this month, a story broke indicating that Agent Orange was applied far more recklessly than originally estimated – meaning citizens and soldiers alike suffered far graver exposures to dioxin.

Even after active conflicts end, military waste wages a lingering cold war on the natural world. A 1993 State Department report identifies landmines and other unexploded ordnance as “the most toxic and widespread pollution facing mankind.”

Operation Desert Storm perpetuated this sad history. The Gulf War of 1991 resulted in some 65 million barrels of spilled oil, which killed tens of thousands of marine birds in the Persian Gulf and seeped through the desert into sensitive water sources. Meanwhile, in Iraq’s cities, bombing devastated sewage and water treatment facilities.

Most significantly, the 600 oil fires set by the Iraqi army burned for up to nine months, releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. This pollution caused dark, greasy rains to fall as far as 1,500 miles away.

“The first Gulf War was the biggest environmental disaster in recent history,” former Earth Island Journal editor Gar Smith [and Environmentalists Against War co-founder] recently told The Washington Post.

Lacking the massive oil fires and extreme infrastructural damage that marked the first Gulf War, the current clash may not prove as environmentally disastrous as some feared. Nevertheless, with controversial depleted-uranium weaponry in use and with ecosystems still reeling from the last conflict, revelations of environmental damage may emerge, as they have with past wars, for years to come.

Two years ago the World Health Organization began exploring whether the depleted uranium from munitions used in Desert Storm were causing spikes in cancer, kidney diseases and other congenital disorders among Iraqis. The Pentagon says the weapons are safe – but just this month the Royal Society issued a scathing indictment of these claims and called for the United States and Britain to remove hundreds of tons of the substance to protect Iraqi citizens. If such suspicions prove correct, these civilians must be considered casualties of war and counted along with those who died in air strikes. This would mean, of course, that the true body count from the current war will take years to assess.

Even relatively minor environmental disruptions in Iraq can have wide-ranging impacts, especially on biodiversity. The Persian Gulf harbors more than half of the marine turtle species in the world, all of which are listed as “endangered” or “threatened.” Sixty species of waterfowl and nine different birds of prey spend their winters in Iraq’s delicate wetlands. “From a biodiversity point of view,” the noted ornithologist Phil Hockey told Grist Magazine, “this is the worst possible time of the year to have a war there.”

The US occupation of Iraq could itself invite despoliation. Global oil companies are eager to develop virgin oil fields in Iraq, aiming to double the country’s production to around six million barrels a day by 2010. Conservation and renewable energy are unlikely to rank high in the agenda as they undertake this massive new extraction. And progressives, while they push for Iraqi self-determination and support the country’s control of its own profitable resources, should feel ambivalent about Iraq’s stable economy coming at the cost of lowered oil prices and continued US dependence on fossil fuels.

Putting aside its impacts abroad, the war in Iraq may deal a cruel blow to environmental protections in the United States. Never one to miss a moment of political opportunism, the Bush administration now argues that requiring the Department of Defense to comply with environmental laws will hurt the troops’ “training readiness.” The White House has therefore asked Congress to exempt the armed forces from a wide swath of regulations – a goal generals have pursued for years.

Given the ease with which the Marines rolled across the Iraqi desert, it’s hard to see how our environmental laws have hampered the military’s ability to face current threats. Nevertheless, the legislation puts the screws into the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Superfund, to name a few. In fact, it’s “a rollback of almost every major environmental law on the books,” says Michael Jasney, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Of course, many environmentalists already opposed the president’s overseas adventurism. To them, the inevitable human costs seemed as unjustifiable as the conflict’s toll on the natural world. Yet, in the end, bringing an ecological perspective to the military debate may prove necessary. Only by challenging America’s enormous appetite for oil, along with its imperial ambitions, can we preempt a war – both human and ecological – without end.

Mark Engler, a writer based in Brooklyn, has previously worked with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San José, Costa Rica, as well as the Public Intellectuals Program at Florida Atlantic University.

Research assistance for this article provided by Katie Griffiths.

This article originally appeared in Tompaine.com.

Why Is the Pentagon Sidestepping A Law That Protects Our Soldiers?

April 30th, 2003 - by admin

by TomPaine.com –

http://www.tompaine.com/op_ads/opad.cfm/ID/7673

(April 29, 2003) – Public Law 105-85 requires the Pentagon to collect health data on troops before and after deployment to a war zone. But troops headed to Iraq were not examined as the law specifically requires — through physical exams and blood tests — as The Kansas City Star first reported in March.

Pentagon officials admit they haven’t followed the law. They say a short questionnaire suffices in place of a medical exam. They say there’s no sense testing a generally healthy population of soldiers. They say there wasn’t time for exams in the rush to war, and troops returning home won’t sit still long enough for an exam.

These excuses haven’t impressed Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.). He convened a hearing on March 25.

“From my standpoint, you’re not meeting the letter of the law, clearly, and I don’t think you’re meeting the spirit of the law,” Shays told a Pentagon representative who testified.

Doctors who advised the military on protecting soldiers’ health also registered concern at the hearing. The law is an “important mandate,” said Dr. Manning Feinleib, but “implementation has been fragmented.” Dr. John Moxley, III, said Pentagon practices did not incorporate recommendations made by his and other advisory panels.

Those suggestions shaped the law, passed in 1997 after the sad experience of Gulf War veterans. Tens of thousands of them waited years before getting the government-provided health care they earned as soldiers. Why? A lack of basic health data delayed a Pentagon decision that their maladies — now known collectively as “Gulf War Syndrome” — were related to their service.

“Laws designed to protect soldiers on the battlefield are being ignored,” testified Steven Robinson, a former Army Ranger who now runs the National Gulf War Resource Center. “Service members are being set up to face another round of delay, denial and obfuscation regarding possible service-connected medical conditions or disabilities.”

Several members of Congress have asked the General Accounting Office to investigate. While we await its report, due this summer, perhaps Mr. Rumsfeld would tell us: Can the Pentagon ignore ANY law it thinks is mistaken?

For more information, contact the National Gulf War Resource Center (www.NGWRC.org).

http://www.tompaine.com/op_ads/opad.cfm/ID/7673

Gulf War Syndrome II: Following Orders

April 30th, 2003 - by admin

by Steven Rosenfeld – TomPaine.com

http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/7661/view/print

Veterans, members of Congress and doctors who have advised the military on providing medical care to deployed US troops are wondering: Has the Pentagon forgotten Gulf War Syndrome?

These critics charge the Pentagon has not followed a 1997 law that specifically requires pre- and post-deployment medical exams – with physicals and blood tests – to establish baseline medical records for troops sent overseas. In doing so, critics say, the Pentagon risks repeating past mistakes that left tens of thousands of sick Gulf War veterans without the government-provided health care to which they were entitled.

Top Pentagon officials acknowledged in a Congressional hearing on March 25 that they did not screen troops sent to Iraq as specified in the 1997 law, PL 105-85. But they said the military had learned lessons from the first Gulf War, and that its method of examining troops – a questionnaire filled out by soldiers and reviewed by medical staff – was sufficient.

“We believe that we are following the law and that we are doing it in a way that makes sense,” Dr. William Winkenwerder, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, told the hearing, which was convened by Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.). Troops receive a “continuum of care” that includes ongoing check-ups and medical reviews, Dr. Winkenwerder said.

But Rep. Shays strongly disagreed. “From my standpoint, you’re not meeting the letter of the law, clearly, and I don’t think you’re meeting the spirit of the law,” he said.

The General Accounting Office is investigating Pentagon compliance with the law, at the request of several members of Congress. Its report is due this summer. The GAO has just released a related report saying the Army could do more to assess the health status of reserve soldiers deployed early in the war.

Meanwhile, as the first troops return from Iraq, veterans groups and others are pressing the Pentagon to expand post-deployment health screening of troops and related medical record-keeping. The National Gulf War Resource Center is lobbying Congress to pass a resolution ordering the Pentagon to conduct physicals and blood tests on returning troops.

“The pre-deployment info is now lost. So we’re looking at more post-deployment info,” said Betsy Hawkins, chief of staff and spokeswoman for Rep. Shays.

Pentagon compliance with the 1997 law has been a simmering issue since January, when several members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. In early March, The Kansas City Star reported that troops bound for Iraq were not getting the exams. Then Rep. Shays, who chairs the House Committee on Government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, convened the March 25 hearing.

Lessons Learned

For veterans, the bottom-line is clear: They don’t want a repeat of the “Gulf War Syndrome” experience. After the Gulf War ended in 1991, tens of thousands of soldiers became ill with a range of mysterious maladies. Because the military had incomplete records to assess how or whether their service contributed to these problems, many veterans were left without the government-provided health care they earned as soldiers.

Only after the mysterious illnesses were grouped together and recognized as “Gulf War Syndrome” by the government did the veterans get the health care they felt they needed. The 1991 war now has the highest casualty rate of any American conflict in the last century, with 20 percent – more than 220,000 soldiers – on medical disability, as of May 2002, and another 50,000 seeking that status.

This experience has made the pre- and post-deployment screening of troops a top priority for veterans of the first Gulf War.

“Laws designed to protect soldiers on the battlefield are being ignored, thereby setting the stage for mystery illnesses to again present themselves after a war with Iraq,” Steven Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Veterans Resource Center, testified at Shays’ hearing. “Service members are being set up to face another round of delay, denial and obfuscation regarding possible service-connected medical conditions or disabilities related to their participation in a Middle East conflict.” Others at the March 25 hearing also questioned whether the Pentagon had incorporated lessons of the 1991 war. Two civilian doctors who served on separate federal panels on Gulf War health issues and protecting deployed soldiers told the subcommittee that the Pentagon’s overall approach and current protocols were insufficient.

“It is my overall impression that although some initial steps have been taken to carry out this important mandate, implementation has been fragmented and little worthwhile data will be forthcoming from the forms currently used for pre- and post-deployment health assessment,” said Dr. Manning Feinleib, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and member of a federal Institute of Medicine panel on Gulf War and Health. Dr. John Moxley, III, is the managing director of Korn/Ferry International’s North American Health Care Division. He chaired the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Strategies to Protect the Health of Deployed US Forces. He testified on March 25 that the Pentagon’s practices had not incorporated suggestions by his and other advisory panels.

“Many of the [IOM panel’s] recommendations are restatements of recommendations that have been made before, recommendations that had not been implemented,” Moxley said. “The committee… believed that failure to move briskly on these fronts would further erode the traditional trust between the service member and the leadership.”

The Pentagon’s top health officers maintain they have learned the lessons of the Persian Gulf War and Gulf War Syndrome. They say the 1997 law, though well-intentioned, is asking for redundant medical tests because troops are regularly examined. They say having soldiers fill out pre- and post-deployment questionnaires and using HIV blood tests not only satisfies the law, but ensures the military will have adequate records to track veterans’ future health.

“We want to do the right thing for troops, when they are deployed and when they come back,” said Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, Deputy Director, Deployment Health Support Directorate, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

But the Pentagon’s explanations aren’t likely to quiet critics, and the story is getting more coverage. The Associated Press, Army Times, and The Washington Times have all run stories since the March 25 hearing. And several members of Congress and Veterans Administration Secretary Anthony Principi have asked the Pentagon to reassess plans for post-deployment medical screening of soldiers returning from Iraq.

Dr. Kilpatrick told TomPaine.com that the Pentagon will soon expand its post-deployment questionnaire. But he said it was unrealistic to expect returning troops to delay their arrival home to be examined by physicians. He reiterated that conducting physicals wasn’t the best way to screen for potential combat-related problems.

Such statements aren’t likely to suffice.

“These men and women put their lives on the line for their country,” says Betsy Hawkins of Rep. Shays’ office. “All they ask is their country take care of them when they return.”

Steven Rosenfeld is a commentary editor and audio producer for TomPaine.com

Cancer Check for UK Troops

April 30th, 2003 - by admin

by Paul Brown – The Guardian Weekly

LONDON (April 29, 2003) – Soldiers returning from the Gulf will be offered tests on the levels of depleted uranium in their bodies to check if they are in danger of kidney damage and lung cancer as a result of exposure, the Ministry of Defence said this week. The ministry was responding to a warning from the Royal Society, Britain’s top scientific body, that soldiers and civilians might be exposed to toxic levels. It challenged assurances from the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, that depleted uranium was not a risk.

A ministry spokeswoman said that if soldiers followed instructions correctly and wore respirators in areas where depleted uranium might have been used they would not suffer dangerous exposure, but all would be offered urine tests. The overall results would be published. The ministry said it would also publish details of where and how much depleted uranium was used.

Brian Spratt, chairman of the society’s working group on depleted uranium, said: “It is highly unsatisfactory to deploy a large amount of a material that is weakly radioactive and chemically toxic without knowing how much soldiers and civilians have been exposed to it . . . It is vital that this monitoring takes place within a matter of months.” Experts have calculated that between 1,000 and 2,000 tonnes of depleted uranium were used by the coalition in the Iraq campaign.

Coalition Forces Should Reveal where Depleted Uranium Weapons Were Used in Iraq

April 30th, 2003 - by admin

by The Royal Society of England –

http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/policy/

LONDON (April 24, 2003) — The Royal Society, the UK’s national science academy, today called on coalition forces to reveal where and how much depleted uranium was used in the conflict in Iraq, so that an effective clean-up and monitoring programme of both soldiers and civilians can begin. It also highlighted the need to obtain further data on the exposure levels that can occur on the battlefield and in residential areas.

Professor Brian Spratt FRS, chair of the Royal Society working group on depleted uranium, said: “About 340 tonnes of DU were fired in the 1991 Gulf war. The coalition needs to make clear where and how much depleted uranium was used in the recent conflict in Iraq. We need this information to identify civilians and soldiers who should be monitored for depleted uranium exposure and to begin a clean-up of the environment.

“Fragments of depleted uranium penetrators are potentially hazardous, and a recent Royal Society study recommended that they should be removed, and areas of contamination around impact sites identified, and where necessary made safe. Impact sites in residential areas should be a particular priority. Long-term monitoring of water and milk to detect any increase in uranium levels should also be introduced in Iraq. This would provide a cost-effective method of monitoring sensitive components in the environment, and provide information about uranium levels to concerned local populations.

“The question of who carries out the initial monitoring and clean-up is a political rather than scientific question. The United Nations Environment Programme, which is today launching a report on environmental hazards in Iraq, has much experience in this area and advised on the clean-up operation in the Balkans. Monitoring, however, is likely to be a long-term task, spanning many years, so it is vital that Iraq acquires the capabilities to undertake this itself.

“Although there are more pressing problems in Iraq currently, such as ensuring that civilians have access to fresh water, food, power and medical services, and removing unexploded shells, the coalition needs to acknowledge that depleted uranium is a potential hazard and make in-roads into tackling it by being open about where and how much depleted uranium has been deployed.”

The Royal Society’s recent study on the health hazards of depleted uranium found that most soldiers and civilians are unlikely to be exposed to dangerous levels of depleted uranium during and after its use on the battlefield, but concluded that some soldiers might suffer kidney damage and an increased risk of lung cancer if they breathe in substantial amounts of it, for instance inside an armored vehicle hit by a depleted uranium penetrator.

The study also concluded that soil around impact sites of depleted uranium penetrators could be heavily contaminated, and may be harmful if swallowed by children for example. In addition, large numbers of depleted uranium penetrators embedded in the ground might pose a long-term threat to civilians if the uranium leaches into water supplies.

The Royal Society today also called for soldiers exposed to high levels of depleted uranium to be tested for its levels in their bodies. In its latest report, the Society recommended that in any future conflict using DU munitions, measurements of uranium in urine and modern biochemical tests of kidney function should be carried out on soldiers exposed to substantial levels as soon after exposure as practical and at subsequent intervals thereafter.

Prof. Spratt continued: “It is only by measuring the levels of DU in the urine of soldiers that we can understand the intakes of DU that occur on the battlefield, which is a requirement for a better assessment of any hazards to health. It is vital that this monitoring takes place and that it takes place within a matter of months.”

Prof. Spratt also proposed that a sample of soldiers from across the battlefield should be monitored for uranium levels. This would give scientists better data and enable them to determine more accurately the risk to health posed by depleted uranium munitions. In previous studies scientists have relied on mathematical modelling owing to lack of hard data from the battlefield.

Prof. Spratt said: “There are few, if any, validated measurements of the exposures to DU from previous conflicts where DU munitions were used. It is highly unsatisfactory to deploy a large amount of a material that is weakly radioactive and chemically toxic without knowing how much soldiers and civilians have been exposed to it.

“In order to more accurately assess the health risks, it is essential that we measure exposures in a sample of soldiers across the battlefield, not just those who may have had substantial exposures, but also foot soldiers and field hospital staff across Iraq. We also need to know the exposures of Iraqis living in any residential areas where DU munitions were deployed. We believe that exposures to DU will be low for most individuals but we need to take measurements.”

NOTES

1. This statement coincides with the launch of the report of United Nations Environment Programme’s ‘desk study’ on Iraq’s environment, which also looks at the clean-up of depleted uranium munitions.

2. The Royal Society has published two reports on the health hazards of depleted uranium:

• The health hazards of depleted uranium Part I, published in May 2001 and covering likely exposure levels, radiological effects and epidemiology.

http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/templates/press/showpresspage.cfm?file=445.txt

• The health hazards of depleted uranium Part II, published in March 2002 and covering effects from chemical toxicity and environmental impact.

http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/templates/press/showpresspage.cfm?file=445.txt

Both reports are available on the Royal Society website:

http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/policy/

A Strategy for Protecting the People and the Environment in Post-war Iraq

April 30th, 2003 - by admin

by United Nations Environment Programme –

http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/iraq_ds.pdf

GENEVA (April 24, 2003) – A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme on environmental conditions in Iraq offers a preliminary assessment of the main environmental threats facing the country and recommends actions for immediate relief and long-term recovery.

The report stresses the need for urgent measures to address humanitarian issues. Priorities should include restoring the water supply and sanitation systems, cleaning-up possible pollution ‘hot spots’ and cleaning-up waste sites to reduce the risk of disease epidemics from accumulated municipal and medical wastes.

Another priority activity should be conducting a scientific assessment of sites struck with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU). The report recommends that guidelines be distributed immediately to military and civilian personnel, and to the general public, on how to minimize the risk of accidental exposure to DU.

“Environmental protection is a humanitarian issue,” said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. “Not only do environmental hazards threaten human health and well-being, but they can impede aid operations.”

Additional action is needed to integrate environmental protection into the wider post-conflict clean-up and reconstruction process. Recommendations include conducting environmental impact assessments, using environmentally friendly technologies for major reconstruction projects and maximizing the exchange of information between key stakeholders to avoid accidental further risks to human health and the environment.

“Many environmental problems in Iraq are so alarming that an immediate assessment and a clean-up plan are needed urgently. The environment must be fully integrated into all reconstruction plans if the country is to achieve a strong and sustainable recovery,” said Pekka Haavisto, the Study Chairman.

UNEP’s report on the environmental situation in Iraq was initiated at a humanitarian meeting convened in Geneva in February 2003 by the government of Switzerland, which has also financed the present report. Since then, UNEP’s proposal for conducting a full-scale assessment in Iraq has been included within the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Flash Appeal for the Humanitarian Requirements of the Iraq Crisis, launched on 28 March 2003.

The report also calls for building the knowledge base for tackling chronic environmental problems. National and international expertise should be assembled for conducting further studies, including field missions and data gathering. Priority issues could include hazardous waste and emissions, water-resource management, ecosystems (especially the Mesopotamian Marshlands) and depleted uranium.

There is also a need for building strong national institutions and capacities for long-term environmental management. The environment must be treated as a priority issue in the development of democratic governance and institutional structures. Working within a UN framework, national and international experts should be engaged in defining the institutional, legislative, capacity building and resource needs for effective and sustainable environmental management. Iraq’s accession to key environmental treaties should be supported.

The UNEP report concludes that the current Iraq conflict has undoubtedly added to the chronic environmental stresses that have accumulated in Iraq over the past two decades. The country’s environment shows severe damage from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the 1991 Gulf War, environmental mismanagement by the former Iraqi regime and the economic impact of sanctions.

A major threat to the Iraqi people is the accumulation of physical damage to the country’s environmental infrastructure. In particular, the destruction of, and lack of investment in, water and sanitation systems has led to higher levels of pollution and health risks.

On top of this, continuous electricity cuts have often stopped the pumps that remove sewage and circulate freshwater. Power outages have also affected the pumps that remove saline water from irrigated lands in the southern floodplain, leading to widespread water logging and salinization.

The destruction of military and industrial infrastructure during Iraq’s various conflicts has released heavy metals and other hazardous substances into the air, soil, and freshwater supplies. An assessment of the country’s chemical risks and levels of environmental contamination, however, has yet to be conducted.

Smoke from the oil-well fires and burning oil-trenches during the past two months has caused local air pollution and soil contamination. The lack of investment in the oil industry in recent years has reduced maintenance and raised the risk of leaks and spills.

Heavy bombing and the movement of large numbers of military vehicles and troops have further degraded natural and agricultural ecosystems. When the desert’s hard-packed surface is disturbed, the underlying sand is exposed and often erodes or blows away. Meanwhile, transboundary pollution and a lack of river basin management have led to the degradation of Iraq’s major waterways.

The intensive use of DU weapons has likely caused environmental contamination of as yet unknown levels or consequences. Conducting a DU study would require receiving precise coordinates of the targeted sites from the military. Iraq’s multiple military conflicts have also resulted in large and widespread quantities of military debris, including unexploded ordnance.

The UNEP Desk Study on Environment in Iraq was prepared by UNEP’s Post Conflict Assessment Unit as a contribution to international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraq. It provides a rapid overview on the basis of published and on-line information sources, drawing heavily on media reports and military briefings for the most recent conflict.

To download a PDF version of the report, click on:

http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/iraq_ds.pdf

UNEP Chronicles Environmental Damage in Afghanistan

April 29th, 2003 - by admin

by United Nations Environment Programme –

http://postconflict.unep.ch/afghanistan/report/afghanistanpcajanuary2003.pdf

KABUL / NAIROBI (January 29, 2003) — Two decades of warfare in Afghanistan have degraded the environment to the extent it now presents a major stumbling block for the country’s reconstruction efforts.
A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Post-Conflict Environment Assessment report, produced in close cooperation with the Afghanistan Transitional Authority and released today, shows how conflict has put previous environmental management and conservation strategies on hold, brought about a collapse of local and national governance, destroyed infrastructure, hindered agricultural activity and driven people into cities already lacking the most basic public amenities.
Three to four years of drought have compounded a state of widespread and serious resource degradation: lowered water tables, dried up wetlands, denuded forests, eroded land and depleted wildlife populations.
With two million returning refugees in 2002 and a further 1.5 million expected this year, pressure on Afghanistan’s natural resources and environmental services are set to increase further.
The UNEP assessment was carried out last year by 20 Afghan and international scientists and experts who examined 38 urban sites in four cities and 35 rural locations.
UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said the report makes it clear that environmental restoration must play a major part in the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
“Over 80 percent of Afghan people live in rural areas, yet they have seen many of their basic resources – water for irrigation, trees for food and fuel – lost in just a generation. In urban areas the most basic necessity for human well being – safe water – may be reaching as few as 12 percent of the people,” Mr Toepfer said.
Disposal of solid waste is one of the country’s most glaring problems. The assessment team found no dumpsites were taking measures to prevent groundwater contamination or toxic air pollution from burning plastic wastes.
In Kandahar and Herat, dumpsites are sited in dry river valleys above the cities, with the prospect that future heavy rains will wash hundreds, if not thousands, of tons of waste back into the city via the river system.
Kabul’s Kampani dumpsite is also upstream of the city and close to a well field used to draw drinking water; one likely to expand to meet the city’ growing needs.
Tests of drinking water in urban areas revealed high concentrations of bacterial contaminants, Coliforms and E. coli, from contamination by sewage – creating a threat to public health, particularly children who are susceptible to deadly cholera.
The assessment found Kabul’s water supply system, damaged during the conflict and lacking routine maintenance, is losing as much as 60 percent of its supply through leaks and illegal use. In Herat only 10 percent of the 150 public taps were found to work.
In Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar and Kabul the UNEP team documented medical wastes from hospitals – in some cases even organs and syringes – being disposed of into open streets, uncontrolled dumps and an abandoned well, risking the spread of viral and bacterial diseases and toxic hazards.
However, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif have initiated recycling and composting schemes, while Herat has significantly reduced cholera cases through chlorination of its water supply, helped by international assistance.
UNEP investigations of oil refineries and transport terminals, and brick, asphalt and lead battery factories revealed acute environmental and human health risks, because of poorly maintained, rudimentary technologies and a lack of management know-how.
In a plastic recycling/shoe factory in Kabul the assessment team found children working without protection from toxic chemicals and sleeping at machines, or in factory alcoves, between their 12 hours shifts.
The rural assessment found widespread loss of forest had occurred across much of the country during the past 30 years.
Satellite imagery reveals that conifer forests in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan have been reduced by over a half since 1978. During Mujahadeen and Taliban times up to 200 timber trucks a day, representing the loss of up to 200 hectares of forest, plied the main road in Kunar, according to local officials, probably two thirds of it destined for export markets in Pakistan.
Today local communities have lost control of their resources in these eastern provinces with warlords, ‘timber barons’ and foreign traders controlling illegal and highly lucrative logging operations.
The assessment also documented the loss of pistachio woodlands in the north; trees from which can produce 35-50 kg of nuts per year, providing significant revenue at US$1 kg. Almost no trees could be detected in Badghis and Takhar provinces in 2002 by satellite instruments, compared to 55 and 37 percent land cover respectively in 1977.
This appears to have been caused by the breakdown of a community forest warden scheme and stockpiling of fuelwood during uncertain political conditions. Later, according to interviews with residents, military forces cut trees to reduce hiding and ambush opportunities for opposing forces.
Goats and sheep are preventing regeneration of many forest areas. As well as controlling grazing one of the proposals being considered by the Afghanistan Transitional Authority is the creation of an “Afghan Conservation Corps”, utilizing ex-combatants for reforestation efforts.
In the Amu Darya River, the assessment team found several hundred families had colonized previously unoccupied tugai forest islands – a unique ecosystem and refuge for species such as the Eurasian otter, wild boar, endangered Bactrian deer, waterbirds and birds of prey – to escape conflict. Prior to the Taliban period, local residents widely respected the island’s reserve status but the new colonists have been clearing and hunting the area, which covers a 100 km stretch of the river near the border with Tajikistan.
Also in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, the assessment team identified potential risks from large stocks of dangerous or illegal pesticides, used in the past for control of insects, including annual infestations of Moroccan locusts.
In the remote Wakhan Corridor, which borders Tajikistan, Pakistan and China, an area rarely visited by UN missions, the assessment team spent two weeks on horseback in areas grazed by the yurt-dwelling Kyrgyz and Wakhi herders. The team confirmed the presence of snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and species such as wolf, brown bear and Asian ibex.
Hunting pressure – mainly for meat and casual trade in wildlife furs – was much reduced during the period of Soviet occupation, but has increased subsequently. UNEP noted that the Wakhi have responded positively to recent calls by the Afghan Transitional Authority to hand in arms and stop hunting, and the area escaped much of the recent conflict and is free of land mines.
Pekka Haavisto, Chairman the UNEP Afghanistan Task Force said “Afghanistan now has an historic opportunity to get environmental issues integrated in all development plans. Protection of environment and sustainable management of natural resources will also create new job opportunities.”
“Some environmental problems have to be tackled immediately. The burning of wastes, contamination between dumpsites or sewerage and drinking water, and the serious chemical threats to young workers at the factories visited by UNEP, are among the most urgent health-related environmental problems in Afghanistan,” Mr Haavisto said.
The assessment report contains 163 recommendations, covering environmental legislation and enforcement, capacity building, job creation, planning, environmental impact assessment procedures, industry and trade, public participation and education, and participation in international environmental agreements. It also makes recommendations in relation to water supply, waste, hazardous wastes and chemicals, woodlands and forests, energy, air quality, wildlife and protected areas conservation, desertification and food and agriculture resources and identifies actions at specific urban and rural sites visited during the assessment.
Dr Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, Minister of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment in the Afghanistan Transitional Authority, said the Government would benefit greatly from the report as it develops the country’s environmental policies and plans for rehabilitation.
“UNEP’s post-conflict environment assessment illuminates Afghanistan’s current levels of degradation, and sets forth a path that the country can take towards sustainable development. It warns us of a future without water, forests, wildlife and clean air if environmental problems are not addressed in the reconstruction period,” Minister Nuristani said.
UNEP has assisted in the preparation of the UN’s 2003 Transitional Assistance Programme for Afghanistan, which includes priority areas for environmental management, and identifies the funding that is required from the international donor community to implement them.
Download Afghanistan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment Report
(3.5 MB PDF Version):
http://postconflict.unep.ch/afghanistan/report/afghanistanpcajanuary2003.pdf

Disturbing Deaths of Civilians and Reporters

April 29th, 2003 - by admin

by UN Human Rights Commission Concerned about Civilian Deaths –

http://www.unhchr.ch

(April 9, 2003) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, is deeply disturbed by reports of the increasing number of deaths of civilians in Iraq. The High Commissioner’s fears have become even more relevant as fighting has engulfed Baghdad. “The impact on civilians must never be underestimated, for it is truly terrible in a way that words simply cannot convey,” the High Commissioner said. He cited reports from humanitarian agencies that hospitals can no longer cope with the influx of the wounded; that they are running low on essential medicines, and that some hospitals and health centers have been affected by the damage to water supplies and electricity. “The remarkable job all those who care for victims continue to carry out in the most difficult circumstances – Iraqi medical staff and volunteers, the International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations – is a courageous and truly inspiring tribute to humanity,” he added.

The High Commissioner is also concerned that the fighting has killed some dozen journalists and that media locations have been hit. “The right to freedom of information is dealt a fatal blow whenever a journalist is killed or wounded,” he said. “There are inescapable obligations on the parties to the conflict”, he said. “Human rights and international humanitarian law cannot be put on hold”.

Police Violence Shocks Activists

April 29th, 2003 - by admin

by – San Jose Mercury News

http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/5579733.htm

Police Fire on Peaceful Protesters at the Oakland Docks

April 29th, 2003 - by admin

by Act Against War –

http://www.actagainstwar.org/

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