WWF: War in Iraq will badly damage environs

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 03 Apr 2003

PETALING JAYA: The war in Iraq will have an adverse impact on freshwater ecosystems and resources, the climate, and several endangered and vulnerable species, said the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). 

In a statement made available here from the WWF Secretariat in Gland, Switzerland, the organisation said the conflict in Iraq would damage freshwater ecosystems and resources in the country, especially in the Mesopotamian Marshes.  

It said although Iraq did not suffer from a water shortage, a bombing campaign would likely result in severe pollution. 

“In a worst-case scenario, a bombing campaign could result in rapid and widespread contamination of surface and groundwater by oil, other industrial chemicals, and sewerage,” WWF said in the statement, adding that many people could die from it. 

“Remaining fisheries would be dramatically reduced and contaminated, depriving Iraqis of an important source of protein and calcium,” it said, noting that the destruction of dams and other water infrastructure was likely to cause extensive flooding. 

WWF said 16 globally threatened or near-threatened bird species and three unique endemic wetland bird species –the Iraq babbler, Basra reed warbler and Grey hypocolius – occurred in Iraq, and would be further threatened by the conflict.  

It said the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was an alluvial salt marsh important to migratory birds, and was among the most important wintering areas for migratory birds in Eurasia. 

Other species in Iraq considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild included the Euphrates softshell turtle, blue whale, white-headed duck, cheetah, wild goat, sea cow or dugong, common otter, smooth-coated otter, humpback whale, long-fingered bat, spotted eagle, imperial eagle, and marbled duck. 

Citing a study by Jeffrey A. McNeely of IUCN-The World Conservation Union called “War and Biodiversity: An Assessment of Impacts”, WWF said in the 1991 Gulf war, over 700 million litres of oil were spilled into the Persian Gulf. 

It said 300km of the Kuwait and Saudi Arabia coastline was covered in oil, affecting wetlands and marshes, adding that between 15,000 and 30,000 birds were thought to have died as a direct result of the war, with numbers of migratory birds also dying later. 

“Six hundred oil wells were sabotaged, releasing half a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and spreading air pollution as far away as India.  

“Massive oil lakes formed from the world’s largest oil spill on land to date, and desert ecosystems were harmed by the movement of heavy equipment,” WWF said. 

It said the UN Compensation Committee awarded Kuwait US$108.9mil (RM414mil) in reparations from Iraqi oil sales to address the environmental impact of the Gulf war.  

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