From: Chris Tomlinson, Associated Press
Published September 14, 2004 12:00 AM

U.N. Agency to Study Environment in Iraq

NAIROBI, Kenya — Scientists will begin investigating environmental "hot spots" in Iraq as part of a long-term strategy to clean up the country after ten years of war and instability, the U.N. Environment Program said Tuesday.

The U.N. agency has coordinated the training of Iraqi scientists in the latest laboratory and field testing techniques to collect information on suspected hazardous sites, officials said. The work will begin soon, a spokesman said.

"We estimate that there are more than 300 sites in Iraq considered to be contaminated to various levels with a range of pollutants," said Klaus Toepfer, the agency's executive director.

The agency also has been asked by the Iraqi government to investigate possible pollution by depleted uranium ordnance used to pierce tank armor during the 1991 Gulf War and the latest war.

"We are considering this very, very clearly ... they are a very important threat," Toepfer said.

The British government has given the agency detailed information on locations where it used 1.9 tones of depleted uranium in the south of Iraq, but the U.S. government hasn't come forward with the same information despite requests from the United Nations.

The Japanese government has funded much of the US$4.7 million (euro3.8million) project, which will be coordinated by the Nairobi-based U.N. agency and implemented by the Iraqi Ministry of the Environment.

Samples — collected by Iraqi experts — will be evaluated by the U.N.Environment Program's Post-Conflict Assessment Unit in Geneva. The unit has also worked in the Balkans, the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan and Liberia.

Pekka Haavisto, who heads the post-conflict task force, said the pollution in Iraq had been caused both by conflict and by the country's isolation under Saddam.

"This region has suffered several wars, and there hasn't been a proper clean up after any of these wars. The isolation of Iraq during the times of Saddam contributed to the bad maintenance of industrial facilities. The picture is quite dark," he said.

The project will concentrate on at least five sites, including the Al-Mishaq Sulfur State Company, the Midland Refinery Stores, Al-Suwaira Seed Stores, sites were oil pipelines have been sabotaged and scrap metal yards where destroyed military vehicles have been taken.

Once the exact nature and extent of the contamination of the sites has been evaluated, the scientists will recommend remedial action to the Iraqi government, the agency statement 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," said Mishkat Moumin, in a statement released in Nairobi."Delivering a clean and unpolluted environment is a key piece in this jigsaw puzzle."

Source: AP

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