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Planet Ark World Environment News Kuwait sees heavier Gulf War environmental damage

Date: 03-Oct-02
Country: SWITZERLAND
Author: Stephanie Nebehay

Khaled Ahmed al-Mudhaf, chairman of Kuwait's Public Authority for Assessment of Compensation for Damages Resulting from the Iraqi Aggression, was reporting the first results from U.N.-financed studies into environmental damage.

In his report to the U.N. Compensation Commission (UNCC), whose Governing Council began a three-day meeting yesterday, he cited extensive harm to fresh water supplies and the soil.

Al-Mudhaf gave no figures. But U.N. officials said that the findings could swell a $17 billion claim already submitted by Kuwait for environmental damage during Iraq's August 1990 invasion and seven-month occupation of the emirate.

The Kuwaiti official said that hydrocarbons from the sabotaged oil wells and salt from seawater used to douse the fires were "steadily and irreversibly infiltrating into these (fresh groundwater) aquifers and rendering the water completely unsuitable for human consumption unless treated".

A hardened layer of sand and oil, caused by the bursting oil wells, covered 350 sq km (135 sq mile), rather than the 210 sq km (80 sq mile) stated in Kuwait's pending claim, according to al-Mudhaf.

HUGE ENVIRONMENTAL CLAIMS

Kuwait has already received $16.5 billion in compensation through the fund for lost oil and the cost of putting out wellhead fires.

Kuwait, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria account for most of the $50 billion in environmental claims against Iraq - the last and biggest category being considered for payment by the reparations fund, due to wrap up work at the end of 2004.

The UNCC has so far received overall claims valued at $300 billion and has approved $42.6 billion in claims by individuals, companies and governments.

On Thursday, the UNCC's Governing Body is due to approve a payment of nearly $700 million to Kuwait for damage caused by Iraqi troops who left mines and ordnance as they fled a U.S.-led alliance, according to diplomats and U.N. sources.

But Iraq charged that the claim filed by the Kuwaiti Defence Ministry, Kuwait Petroleum Company (KPC) and Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) was "exaggerated".

"They are asking for $700 million to demine an area which is very small compared to Afghanistan, where $130 million is being spent," Iraq's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Samir al-Nima, told Reuters.

The UNCC currently receives 25 percent of its income from the U.N.'s oil-for-food programme, which allows Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil. The balance of its funds come from Iraqi assets seized abroad and donations from various governments.

The Governing Body, composed of the same 15 members as the U.N. Security Council, is also due to approve payment of some $67 million to Iran and $8.2 million to Saudi Arabia this week for proven environmental damage, according to diplomats.

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