UN to help Iraq clean up pollution hotspots

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has announced plans for a pilot project to investigate ecological 'hotspots' in Iraq, caused by a decade of instability and conflict. The pilot project is part of a long term plan to clean up the country.

Executive Director of UNEP, Klaus Toepfor, said the project will focus on only five of an estimated 300 contaminated sites, but stressed its long term impact in rebuilding the country and ridding it of threats to human health, wildlife and the wider environment.

“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,” he said.

The US$4.7 million project has received support from the government of Japan and will also assist the Iraqi ministry of the environment to strengthen its skills in other areas including environmental law, natural resources management and taking part in multi-lateral environmental agreements.

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.”

Some of the projects targeted include the Al-Mishraq Sulphur State Company site where assessments are needed on the impact of sulphur fires on surrounding soils, vegetation and surface and groundwaters as well as on air pollution and effluent discharge; and the Midland Refinery stores where spills of more than 5,000 tons of chemicals such as tetra-ethyl lead, may have affected nearby soils and water sources.

Other sites included are the Al Suwaira seed store where 50 tons of seeds coated with methyl-mercury fungicide, stolen during the recent conflict, could contaminate food supplies such as bread; oil pipeline sites where recent attacks have led to discharges into the surrounding environment; and scrap metal plants where contaminants such as halons, asbestos and engine oils may have been released from stockpiles of damaged military vehicles into soil and water sources.

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 by the government of Germany, and the UK’s Dept. for International Development.

By David Hopkins

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