by Terra.Wire / Agence France-Presse –
BAGHDAD (February 08, 2004) — After decades of wars, trade embargoes and neglect by Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq’s environment is heavily polluted. But beset by massive reconstruction needs, authorities have given the country’s first environment minister a budget of just one million dollars this year to start tackling the crisis.
“We have drawn up a list of 35 priority projects, costing more than 200 million dollars. But for 2004 the government has allotted us one million dollars,” said Ali Aziz Hanush, an adviser to the interim minister who was appointed in September. He worried that much of the money will go towards paying salaries for the ministry’s 700 staff.
“It is a dangerous situation,” he said. “The environment is suffering from serious problems, which have accumulated during three decades and destabilised ecosystems.” Hanush admitted they would need international help. “Aid from the international community is vital,” he said, looking to cooperation with the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
According to a UNEP report on Iraq, the sources of pollution range from plain old garbage to depleted uranium weapons used by the US-led forces which toppled Saddam’s regime.
After the regime fell in April, a wave of looting broke out across the country. Thieves ransacked potentially hazardous and radioactive materials from government, industrial and scientific facilities.
There were also problems with the country’s vaunted oil sector. In late January, a leaking pipeline dumped crude oil into the Tigris river near Baiji, the main refinery town for the northern oil fields. Iraq’s other main river, the Euphrates, was similarly contaminated in late August when a pipeline was blown up. Experts have warned that further leaks could pose serious health threats and cause irreversible damage to the sensitive ecology of the Mesopotamian marshes.
UNEP Reports Pollution Peril Continues to Grow
There are more examples of how dangerous the pollution has become. In July, fire raged at a sulfur factory near the northern town of Mosul for three weeks, spewing out noxious sulfur fumes which residents said asphyxiated at least four people.
Other problems have cropped up since Iraq’s borders reopened after years of embargoes, Hanush said, including an explosion of cars on the road which is raising emissions of lead and toxic cadmium.
The October 2003 UNEP report was downcast. “The recent war has undoubtedly exacerbated the chronic environmental stresses that have accumulated in Iraq over the past two decades,” it concluded.
The interim health minister, Khodayyir Abbas, said incidences of cholera, malaria, typhoid and diarrhoea — diseases associated with contaminated water — have all increased because of pollution. He said the problems were being made worse by people made homeless by the war and who are flocking to old industrial zones where pollution is at its worst.
“Our department is the last link in the chain, because it can only treat the results of pollution that other ministries should regulate,” he told AFP. Hanush said his ministry was assembing a department of “ecological coordination” which would bring together 15 representatives from various ministries. “Without this, our ministry, which was set up a few months ago and is looking for decent premises to move into, cannot accomplish its job,” he said.
Copyright 2003 Agence France-Presse.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)