Excerpts from the "Future looks bleak for Iraq's fragile environment"

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Excerpts from the "Future looks bleak for Iraq's fragile environment"  Posted: March 16, 2003
Excerpts from the "Future looks bleak for Iraq's fragile environment" posted in today's New Scientist. Click Here to read the whole New Scientist article.

Even before it began, the 1991 war with Iraq was headlined as an environmental apocalypse. The allied forces would wreak their share of environmental damage, critics warned, but Saddam's actions would be devastating.

Twelve years on, are we in a better position to judge how badly the environment would suffer in a new war with Iraq?

Probably the worst problem was one nobody foresaw. Some 60 million barrels of oil poured into the deserts of Kuwait and formed oil lakes covering 49 square kilometres. From there, the oil slowly percolated down into aquifers and has now poisoned 40 per cent of the underground water - in a country with less water per head than any other.

If oil wells are set ablaze, they could do far more damage than that seen in 1991. Iraq has twice as much oil as Kuwait and many of the wells contain a lot of gas, making them harder to extinguish than those in Kuwait.

The environmental damage would not be confined to Iraq. The shores of the Gulf, which will provide access for invading troops, are "one of the top five sites in the world for wader birds, and a key refuelling area for hundreds of thousands migrating water birds", according to BirdLife's Mike Evans.

While almost two-fifths of Iraq is desert, the UN Environment Programme says 33 Iraqi wetland areas are internationally important. A study by BirdLife for UNEP found these wetlands are particularly vulnerable to pollution from weapons, sabotaged oil wells and the destruction of chemical works.

War in Iraq could spell the end for the Mesopotamian marshes on the lower reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, once Iraq's most prized environmental asset. After the 1991 war, Saddam ejected opponents of his regime who had settled on the marshes by digging huge canals to divert the two rivers that supplied them with water.

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