'Burning of oil wells a threat to environment'

A British soldier checking a boy on the outskirts of Basra in southern Iraq on Sunday. — AP

A British soldier checking a boy on the outskirts of Basra in southern Iraq on Sunday. — AP  

NEW DELHI MARCH 30. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) will approach the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to study the impact of the ongoing war in Iraq on that country's environment. The UNEP has already announced that it would document the extent of environmental damage caused by the war.

The director-general of TERI, R.K. Pachauri, told The Hindu here today that the study would be worthwhile as it could help in preventing future wars. However, it might be a few weeks before the war's impact on the environment starts showing. The greatest threat to the environment was from the burning of oil wells and from chemicals released during bombing.

"The extent of damage to environment will ultimately depend on the duration of the war and the number of oil wells set on fire," Dr. Pachauri said. The longer the oil wells burnt, the higher would be the quantity of harmful gases such as sulphur, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emitted into the air. "However, it is the unburnt or partially burnt hydrocarbons that hang in the air in the form of particles that act as most harmful pollutants and attack the respiratory system," he added.

The chemicals released from the bombs also polluted the atmosphere. "Of course, the Napalm bombs used in the Vietnam war were defoliants (destroying vegetation), but these bombs are not being used in Iraq. But then, we really do not know the exact kinds of bombs being used and the chemicals released from them,"

Dr. Pachauri said adding that reports suggested that only conventional bombs were being used. Then much would depend on the direction of winds. If the winds blew away the gaseous and particulate emissions to nearby areas, the harmful effects on Iraq would be reduced. If they hang over the war zone, the health of the people would be affected."As it is the people are facing a shortage of food and water there. Epidemics are not far away in such a situation," he said. Another area of concern is the psychological impact of war on the people as well as on the U.S. and British soldiers who are fighting in an alien land and under difficult conditions

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