A study of environmental danger hot spots in Iraq by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said close to $40 million is needed to clean up the damage.
It also warns that the destruction of Iraqi military arsenal is creating new contamination and hazardous waste problems at scrapyards and munitions dumps.
The UNEP has investigated five of the worst affected sites and will soon be embarking on a drive to clean up the highly polluted Al Quadissiya metal-plating facility south of Baghdad. The hazardous wastes found there include several tonnes of cyanide compounds.
A part of the $900,000 fund secured for cleaning up Al Quadissiya may also be used to detoxify another priority site, Al Suwaira pesticide warehouse complex 50km south east of the Iraqi capital.
The five sites investigated are likely to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of environmental trouble spots.
“Iraq faces a number of environmental challenges, some of them directly related to the conflict but many as a result of the years of lack of investment in environmental management”
The report points out that the country “has a significant legacy of contaminated and derelict industrial and military sites”.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said: “Wars, conflicts, instability and the poor environmental management of the previous regime have left their scars on the Iraqi people and the Iraqi environment. If the country is to have a brighter and less risky future, it is incumbent on the international community to help the authorities there deal with these pollution hot spots.”
Narmin Othman, the Iraqi Environment Minister, said: “Iraq faces a number of environmental challenges, some of them directly related to the conflict but many as a result of the years of lack of investment in environmental management.”
The assessments of the five sites was conducted in April 2005 funded by a contribution from the Japanese government to the United Nations Development Group’s Iraqi Trust Fund earmarked for UNEP.
About 30 experts from Iraq have been trained in assessment techniques at workshops in Jordan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Apart from the Al Qadissiya and Al Suwaira sites, the other three investigated hot spots are the Khan Dhari petrochemicals warehouse, 30km west of Baghdad, Al Mishraq sulphur mining complex, 50km south of Mosul, and the Ouireej military scrapyard, 15km south of Baghdad.