MIDEAST ECOLOGY NOTES
The War's Environmental Aftermath
The Gulf war has been over for more than a year, but there is still substantial debate about its long-term impact on the region's environment and its citizenry. Several reports released since the beginning of the year offer some clues, but much remains unsettled. Summaries of these reports are included below.
In one of the harshest critiques of the war and the subsequent cleanup effort, Greenpeace in January released a draft report that sharply criticized the U.S. for failing to push the Gulf cleanup effort.
The Gulf cleanup is being coordinated by the International Maritime Organization, Greenpeace noted, but to date only 12 of IMO's 135 members have contributed to its disaster cleanup fund. Significantly, the group said, no funds have been contributed by the United States. Worse, the $8.5 million cleanup fund is being rapidly depleted.
"While some of the countries which made up the coalition forces have contributed to the disaster fund, it is incredible that neither money nor equipment has come from the United States," Paul Horsman, coordinator of the Greenpeace environmental expedition to the Middle East, said in a statement released by the Washington, DC-based organization.
Greenpeace's Horsman also criticized the direction of the cleanup effort. "While a massive oil recovery effort was carried out, it was only to protect desalination and industrial plants," he said. "No effort was directed at protecting environmentally sensitive areas."
Now, with the oil well fires extinguished, it is essential that the United States and countries in the region begin studying the war's long-term impact, Greenpeace added. "It is vital to discover the extent to which . . . chemicals [from the damaged wells] have percolated into and impacted on both the people and the environment," Horsman said.
In a related move, Greenpeace last year launched a drive to adopt stricter international rules to protect the environment in times of war. Crafted as a Fifth Geneva Convention (the first four were adopted after World War II), Greenpeace's suggested rules would: prohibit nations from using the environment as a weapon; ban means and methods of warfare and weapons aimed at environmental destruction; forbid the destruction of installations that may release dangerous radioactive or toxic substances into the environment; and safeguard nature parks and reserves of special ecological importance as demilitarized zones.
The Congressional View
A review conducted by the Congressional Research Service for the Senate Gulf Pollution Task Force was less critical of U. …