While politicians and military historians celebrate the sixth
anniversary of the Persian Gulf war, the ferocious onslaught
against the environment and human health continues.
The Gulf war ranks among the most ecologically destructive
conflicts ever, and the time has finally come for the world
community to consider creating a stronger convention for the
protection of the environment during and after war. This task
requires a political centrist, someone like Madeleine Albright, the
new United States secretary of state.
During the war, the Persian Gulf region was transformed into a
disaster zone. The hundreds of oil fires that produced
unprecedented amounts of pollution were extinguished within six
months but became a huge air pollution laboratory; oil spilled onto
the ground and into the Gulf waters, tainting underground aquifers
and poisoning marine life. Attacks on refineries and petrochemical
plants continue to have an insidious effect on the air, water, and
soil. But the tragedy does not stop there.
Thousands of unexploded bombs and mines litter the former
battlefields; tons of shards of depleted uranium used for
armor-piercing bullets pepper southern Iraq; military personnel
were exposed to highly toxic materials through routine handling of
tanks, fighter jets, and other equipment; and the discharge
of organophosphate compounds, blistering agents, and gases from
chemical weapons depots ostensibly contaminated ground forces.
THE disparity in the response to the military and environmental
effects of the conflict could hardly have been more pronounced. To
force Iraq out of Kuwait, no expense was spared. An alliance of
more than two dozen countries was carefully crafted, the United
Nations machinery for collective security was thrown into high
gear, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and huge amounts of
equipment were ferried halfway around the globe.
By contrast, assessing and tackling the ecological consequences
of the war remained a low priority. Instead of facilitating an
honest assessment of the war's environmental consequences, the Bush
administration sought to downplay them. Once the oil-well fires,
the most visible impact of the war, had been extinguished and CNN
declared that everything was better, any ongoing response to
monitor the myriad problems was aborted.
The enigmatic Gulf War Syndrome is an example of how the war's
collateral effects have transcended the battlefield. …