While the final votes were being counted in the Iraqi elections this week, a three-day conference was held in Kuwait to discuss efforts to repair the environmental devastation inflicted by a previous Iraqi regime nearly two decades ago.
In retreat from its seven-month occupation of Kuwait that triggered the Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein’s forces carried out a scorched-earth policy, exploding nearly 800 oil wells.
The crude oil leaking from these wells, together with the billions of gallons of seawater used to extinguish the fires, resulted in sludge-filled lakes that eradicated desert fauna and flora, and polluted aquifers. Over 100 square kilometers of land will need to be cleansed of these oily lakes.
The Kuwait National Focal Point (KNFP) is the agency responsible for rehabilitating the devastation. Under pressure from the United Nations, it convened a forum this week to address this long-standing problem. As reported in the Abu Dhabi-based The National, Redha al-Hasan, KNFP’s program manager, said the three-day forum held in Ahmadi this week was intended to discuss the feasibility of the approach recommended by the UN, as well as “to present alternative restoration approaches to independent reviewers and to seek input from experts.”
Why has it taken so long to tackle this problem?
Al-Hasan attributes the long delay to the fact that Kuwait was the first country to submit a claim to the UN for environmental damage resulting from an invasion. He explains that Kuwait was required to scientifically prove that Iraq had caused the damage and to monitor the situation for five years.
Kurt Pennell of Tufts University, who serves as a UN independent reviewer, suggests that the two-decade delay might not be so bad: “Everyone would probably be happier if it was moving forward more quickly, but I don’t think it’s a horrible thing that it’s taking more time.
“In some cases, it might be better to go slow and wait for the technology to speed up and come down in cost, rather than rush in when you don’t really know what you’re doing,” Pennell says. “It’s not as if the contamination is in the city or an area where people have exposure, so from that perspective, it’s not quite as imperative that the action is really quick.”
According to al-Hasan, Kuwait has been awarded some $3 billion in clean-up funds and plans to issue tenders next year.
(Image via msn.com)