Mo­sul bat­tle leav­ing legacy of en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

QAYYARAH, Iraq: The bat­tle to re­take Mo­sul from the Is­lamic State group is leav­ing a legacy of en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age and health risks that will pose dan­gers to peo­ple for years to come.

Iraqis have al­ready paid the ini­tial price from burn­ing oil wells and a sul­phur fac­tory that IS set alight south of Mo­sul, Iraq’s last ji­hadist-held city which is the target of a ma­jor mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion launched two months ago. The fires, com­bined with wa­ter pol­lu­tion and the po­ten­tially toxic re­mains of de­stroyed build­ings, mil­i­tary equip­ment ad mu­ni­tions, will also present longer-term threats to peo­ple in ar­eas around and in­side Mo­sul.

“We are con­cerned about how the pol­lu­tion will af­fect the health of lo­cal pop­u­la­tions and neg­a­tively im­pact their ca­pac­ity to re­build qual­ity, sus­tain­able liveli­hoods within those af­fected ar­eas,” said Jenny Sparks of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion.

A United Na­tions re­port on en­vi­ron­men­tal and health risks in the Mo­sul area said that “hun­dreds of peo­ple were treated for ex­po­sure to chem­i­cals, and mil­lions are ex­posed to soot and gases from the burn­ing oil wells”. “The events are oc­cur­ring in an al­ready en­vi­ron­men­tally de­graded re­gion, threat­ened by sub­stan­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy risk from pre­vi­ous con­flicts, cou­pled with se­ri­ous de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and land degra­da­tion pri­mar­ily caused by un­sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural prac­tices,” the re­port said. IS set fire to oil wells be­fore the Qayyarah area was re­cap­tured by Iraqi forces in August, and these have burned for months, turn­ing sheep that graze in the area black with soot.

“We can’t sell our sheep any more. We have had some sheep die, other times peo­ple won’t buy them be­cause they look black,” said Jaber, a 16-year-old shep­herd.

Iraqi civil de­fense forces have been bat­tling the Qayyarah fires, and while they have ex­tin­guished some, oth­ers are still burn­ing.

De­stroyed build­ings, pol­luted wa­ter

IS also set fire to the Mishraq sul­phur plant south of Mo­sul, and while the blaze was even­tu­ally put out, it had al­ready blan­keted nearby ar­eas with a haze of smoke that caused res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems for those who in­haled it. How­ever, the af­ter­math of a 2003 fire at the same plant of­fers some cause for op­ti­mism, ac­cord­ing to the UN re­port. “Even though the veg­e­ta­tion and crops had been badly dam­aged by the fire, nat­u­ral re­cov­ery was ad­vanc­ing well two years later,” it said. Houses and other build­ings dam­aged or de­stroyed by air strikes and shelling also pose a risk to civil­ians try­ing to re­turn and re­build their homes.

“Crushed build­ing ma­te­ri­als con­tain harm­ful sub­stances, pul­verised ce­ment, house­hold wastes and chem­i­cals which can cause ex­po­sure haz­ards to civil­ians and peo­ple deal­ing with the rub­ble,” the UN re­port said. The de­struc­tion of am­mu­ni­tion and weapons de­pots can also “leave a toxic foot­print”, while “de­stroyed mil­i­tary ma­te­rial such as tanks and ar­moured ve­hi­cles of­ten con­tains var­i­ous toxic ma­te­ri­als”, it said. Wa­ter pol­lu­tion as­so­ci­ated with the con­flict is another po­ten­tial prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to Eric Sol­heim, the head of the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram.

“The dump­ing of bod­ies, haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als and oil into wa­ter sources have all been re­ported and are ma­jor causes of con­cern,” Sol­heim said. In­ad­e­quate dis­posal of waste also poses risks, the UN said.

“Col­lapse of en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance can fur­ther lead to ac­cu­mu­la­tion of solid house­hold, med­i­cal and in­dus­trial waste, and if not dealt with prop­erly, can re­sult in in­creased burn­ing of solid waste and re­sult­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal health risks, or the out­break of com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases,” it said. — AFP

This file il­lus­tra­tion photo taken on Novem­ber 04, 2015 shows a small globe above the flames of a gas ring to il­lus­trate global warm­ing. When the world tri­umphantly cel­e­brated the sign­ing of the land­mark Paris cli­mate pact last De­cem­ber, it was hard to imag­ine that only a year later it might face an ex­is­ten­tial threat. —AFP

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