UNEP and Iraqi Environment Ministry to Assess Key Polluted Sites
NAIROBI/GENEVA, 14 September 2004 -- Environmental "hot spots" in Iraq are to be investigated as part of a long-term plan to clean up the country after well over a decade of instability and conflict, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.
Iraqi scientists, trained in the latest laboratory and field testing skills, will be carrying out tests at a handful of contaminated sites in order to assess their threats to human health, wildlife and the wider environment.
Under the project, coordinated by UNEP in close cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of the Environment, the scientists will share samples with UNEP's Post Conflict Assessment Unit (PCAU) in Geneva so that testing can be carried out both in Iraq and in independent and reputable laboratories in Europe.
The new initiative underlines the Iraqi Government's commitment to put environmental issues in the centre of the reconstruction efforts, despite the continuing difficulties prevailing in the country.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: "We estimate that there are more than 300 sites in Iraq considered to be contaminated to various levels by a range of pollutants. This pilot project will focus on up to five of them. Importantly, UNEP will be training Iraqi experts to carry out the tests in order to build the skills and technical-know how in the country. This is part of our long-term aim of creating a fully independent Iraqi team of first class environmental assessors."
"This new project, which has been given generous support from the Government of Japan, will also be assisting the Iraqi Ministry of the Environment to strengthen its skills in other areas including environmental law, natural resources management and taking part in multilateral environmental agreements on everything from protecting the ozone layer to trade in endangered species", he said.
Ms. Mishkat Moumin, the Iraqi Environment Minister, said: "My country is faced with a wide range of pressing issues that must be addressed if the Iraqi people are to enjoy a stable, healthy and prosperous future. Delivering a clean and unpolluted environment is a key piece in this jigsaw puzzle towards a better future. So we warmly welcome our growing cooperation with UNEP and their commitment to strengthen our ministry and help deliver meaningful change on the ground."
The $4.7 million project has been approved in the framework of UN Iraq Trust Fund.
UNEP/PCAU has developed a great deal of expertise in the area of post-conflict assessment after carrying out projects and in some cases clean-ups in regions and countries ranging from the Balkans and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Afghanistan and Liberia.
The new project, the second involving UNEP and Iraq with funding from Japan to be announced in the past few weeks (see "Restoring Iraqi Marshlands Project Launched by UN Environment Programme", 23 July 2004), has pinpointed 10 priority sites from which five are likely to be chosen.
These include the Al-Mishraq Sulphur State Company site where sulphur mining, sulphuric acid and aluminium sulphate manufacturing has been carried out.
Assessments are urgently needed to evaluate the impact of sulphur fires on surrounding soils, vegetation and surface and groundwaters. There are also environmental concerns about air pollution and discharges of effluents.
The Midland (Al-Doura) Refinery Stores are also of concern. The Iraqi Ministry of the Environment want to assess the impact of chemical spills of more than 5,000 tonnes of chemicals, including tetra-ethyl lead, on nearby soils, vegetation and water sources.
Investigations are also planned at the Al Suwaira Seed Store where seeds have been coated with methyl-mercury fungicide. Around 50 tonnes of contaminated seeds were stolen during the recent conflict with the potential to contaminate food supplies such as bread. Assessments are also expected to focus on the impact of fungicide residues on soils and water sources.
The project will also identify an oil pipeline site where recent attacks have led to explosions, oil trench fires and oil discharges into the surrounding environment.
There have been recent concerns surrounding recycling of scrap metals from stockpiles of damaged and destroyed military vehicles. It is planned to assess one scrap metal site in order to evaluate possibly uncontrolled releases of contaminants such as halons, asbestos and engine oils to nearby soils and water sources.
Once the precise threats have been established, the UNEP/Iraqi team will be in a position to recommend remedial action if this is considered necessary.
The training of Iraqi experts in areas including scientific and environmental assessment will build on recent training workshops on modern laboratory techniques held in Switzerland and Jordan, funded in this case by the Government of Germany and the United Kingdom' s Department for International Development.
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