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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
UN urges action on Iraq pollution

The United Nations says urgent action is needed to tackle an environmental crisis in Iraq worsened by war damage and increased pollution.

Oil fire near Kirkuk, Iraq
Oil well smoke contributed to air pollution and soil contamination

A report by the UN's Environment Programme (Unep) said the water and sewerage systems needed immediate repair and that pollution "hotspots" had to be tackled.

It said rubbish and medical waste had to be removed to reduce the risk of epidemics.

The study, released on Thursday, also suggested scientists carry out a prompt risk assessment of sites struck by depleted-uranium (DU) munitions.

Decades of abuse

Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the study, said: "Many environmental problems in Iraq are so alarming that an immediate assessment and a cleanup plan are needed urgently."

The report said that the 2003 Iraqi conflict had added to environmental stress from the 1991 Gulf War, the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and the mismanagement and abuses of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

It said this year's war had caused:

  • Accumulated damage to water and sanitation systems, leading to higher levels of pollution and health risks
  • Continuous electricity cuts, often stopping the pumps that remove sewage and circulate water
  • Power failures affecting pumps that remove saline water from land in southern Iraq, flooding fields and contaminating them with salt
  • Smoke from oil well fires and burning oil trenches that added to air pollution and soil contamination
  • A degrading of the ecosystem because of heavy bombing and the movement of large numbers of vehicles and troops
The report said DU munitions had probably "caused environmental contamination of as-yet unknown levels or consequences".

The Iraqi public should be given advice on how to avoid potential exposure to DU, it said.

The British Government has said it will help to clean up DU in Iraq, but the US has said it has no plans to remove the debris.

The UN report is a "desk study" that provides an overview of the environmental situation in Iraq but is not based on on-site knowledge.

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