By Youssef M. Ibrahim N.Y. Times News Service AHMADI, Kuwait _
As the cost of restoring Kuwait's oil industry to its condition
before the gulf war nears an estimate of $10 billion, the country
still faces an environmental hazard of unknown proportions in the
shape of huge oil lakes forming in the desert.
These oil lakes were created when retreating Iraqi forces
sabotaged wells that did not catch fire but spewed their contents
into the desert.
Some of the huge pools that were formed are now half a mile
wide, more than a mile long, and 2 to 3 feet deep.
The oil is penetrating the soil, killing plants, birds, and
Its polluting effect has become this country's main
environmental worry, replacing the overwhelming smoke from 752
wells set on fire by the Iraqis in February 1991 and put out with
the help of a huge international force of firefighters by November.
In Ahmadi, work is under way to pump out the oil from the thick
black lakes, lakes so perfectly still that they reflect images like
mirrors. The lakes release strong fumes which, residents of this
oil town say, cause respiratory disease, coughing, and other
Some of the lakes, particularly in northern Kuwait, are much
thinner, measuring about 6 inches in depth, but are also much wider.
They have turned vast stretches of the desert sand into a
viscous substance. The oil in the northern patches has become hard
enough that a stone thrown into a lake floats for a few minutes,
then slowly sinks and leaves a hole where it dropped.
"We will have to spend $8 billion to $10 billion in the next
two to three years alone, just to repair the oil industry
infrastructure," said Hamoud Roqba, Kuwait's oil minister. "That's
in addition to the $1.5 billion we have already spent to put out
the fires. The cost of cleaning up those lakes has not been tallied
yet as there are no precedents for such a catastrophe."
Kuwaiti officials said they are still tallying the damage
caused by the Iraqi actions and expect the total bill _ from
cleaning up the environment, including dealing with the oil lakes;
clearing millions of land and sea mines; and, above all, the lost
sales of oil during the gulf crisis _ to add to several billion
dollars more than the $10 billion, which Roqba says Kuwait will
claim from Iraq.
Among other things, the lakes have become bird and insect
traps, and their effect on the fragile desert vegetation may last
for years, according to Ibrahim Hadi, president of Kuwait's
Environmental Protection Agency. …