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Friday, February 20, 1998 Published at 15:18 GMT


Kuwait prepares for war
image: [ Preparing for the worst ]
Preparing for the worst

As the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan heads to Iraq and American troop reinforcements arrive in neighbouring Kuwait, the Kuwaiti people are busily preparing themselves for war and the horrors of a possible chemical weapons strike by Iraq.

Jeremy Cooke reports from Kuwait
So far only military personnel and workers considered essential by the government have been issued with free gas masks. But the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the UK, Khaled Al-Duwaisan, said the government was taking precautions against biological and chemical warfare and was hoping to ensure each citizen receives a protective mask.

[ image: A slide from a Kuwait civil defence lecture]
A slide from a Kuwait civil defence lecture
Wealthy Kuwaitis have little trouble in purchasing their own gas masks, but for Kuwaits' 500,000 guest workers a gas mask costs the equivalent of a month's wages.

One migrant worker from India said simply: "We can't afford the gas masks at roundabout $200, we can't afford it." Instead he and thousands like him are being forced to improvise gas masks of their own.

The simple homemade gas masks consist of crushed charcoal wrapped in a wet handkerchief which is tied around the nose and face. Compared to real gas masks the handkerchiefs look pitiful and it seems likely that the migrant workers will be left quite unprotected against chemical attack should it come.

[ image:
" I'm not scared but I'm worried, kind of worried."
The preparations against a chemical attack in a middle class home are a world away from those of the migrant workers. One prosperous Kuwaiti father describes the charcoal gas masks as a "joke". He has purchased a top of the range gas mask for every member of his family and their Indian maid.

During gas mask drill his ten year old son confesses that the approaching war worries him; " I'm not scared but I'm worried, kind of worried."

His mother is more defiant:"I have to be afraid. I'm afraid for my country first of all and then for my children and all other children also. But this is our country and we have to face everything bad or not bad. We are not just here to get the good things from our country and leave it, no this is not the Kuwaitis (way)."

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