Cablegate: Tfiz01: The Word On Kuwait's Environment

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. KUWAIT 00920
B. KUWAIT 01021

1. SUMMARY: As US-led military action against Iraq moved into
its sixth day, Kuwait stepped up measures to protect the
environment from Iraqi retaliatory strikes. Particular focus
has been placed on monitoring the air and sea, as dark clouds
from Iraqi oil fires continue to drift across the border into
Kuwait. In recent days the GOK launched a public relations
campaign to assure its populace -- both remaining in Kuwait
and temporarily outside the country -- that environmental
conditions remain safe, despite troubling images seen in
newspapers and on TV.

2. On March 22, the GOK's Emergency Response Committee (ref
A) held one of its regular meetings to discuss damage caused
by oil fires burning in Iraq and other potential threats to
Kuwait's environment. The Committee draws together officials
from several departments tasked with protecting the
environment in the face of Iraqi aggression. Environmental
Public Authority (EPA) Chairman Dr. Mohammad Sarawi, who
oversees the Committee, announced that the GOK was planning
to open a mobile laboratory near its northern border to
monitor the atmosphere for pollutants, in addition to the six
fixed stations already operating throughout the country.

3. Dr. Sarawi told Econoff March 23 that he had been
tracking with some concern the advance of large, black clouds
entering Kuwait from Iraq. Local press described the sky in
Jahra, 12 miles north of Kuwait City, as being "very black
and close to the ground, causing poor visibility." Sarawi
stressed that the clouds caused by Iraq setting fire to its
own oil wells still did not pose any health hazards in Kuwait
(ref B).

4. Dr. Sarawi was hopeful that wind gusts expected later this
week would drive out any pollutants, but acknowledged the
threat of longer term effects to Kuwait's environment. He
said that a team of experts from Houston (Boots and Coots
International Well Control), contracted by the USG to fight
oil fires in southern Iraq, predicted it might take as long
as 35-40 days to fully bring burning oil fields under
control. (See ref C for more information on fire fighting

5. Captain Ali Haider, Director of EPA's Marine Pollution
Monitoring Department, told Econoff that his staff had not
registered any oil spills in the Gulf. Prior to the outbreak
of fighting, the GOK had feared that Iraq might use oil as a
weapon by dumping it into Kuwaiti waters. Haider explained
that any spill in the Gulf could take three to four days to
reach the Sabiya station (just south of Bubiyan Island),
where his staff was located, yet he was fairly confident
there would be no spills now that coalition forces were
securing Iraq's main ports.

6. Haider was concerned, however, that oil particles from the
Iraqi fires would stick to the sand and dust present in the
Kuwaiti air following recent sand storms. Weighted down from
the oil, this debris might then drop into the Gulf, creating
a situation similar to a limited oil slick. Haider said his
team was taking readings from the water to determine what
clean-up procedures might need to be taken. Divers were also
investigating potential damage caused when an Iraqi missile
struck the water near Kuwait's Shuaiba Port.

7. Dr. Sarawi added that Kuwait's drinking water remained
safe and free of pollutants. Daily laboratory tests taken
from ten locations revealed that the drinking water continued
to meet international standards established by the World
Health Organization, he said.

8. The Emergency Response Committee has begun a community
outreach campaign to allay any fears people might have about
environmental conditions. As a counter to newspaper photos
and TV images of Kuwait's darkened skies, Dr. Sarawi has
conducted interviews with several major media outlets. CNN
has run on its "ticker tape" statements he made, while
Kuwait's Arabic- and English-language newspapers have printed
articles featuring Dr. Sarawi and other environmental

9. Last week, Kuwait's EPA established an Internet website
that enables concerned citizens to follow the air quality in
six locations throughout the country. The site
( provides contact information and hourly
reports on pollution levels for a variety of chemicals in the
air. It is rather simplistic, however, and somewhat
confusing, as there is no explanation for viewers on the type
or severity of pollutants listed. (Note: Post suggested to
the EPA that it consider expanding the site and making it
more user-friendly. End Note.)

10. Kuwaitis remember well the horrors of the environmental
damage left by retreating Iraqi forces in 1991, including the
burning of more than 700 oil wells that blackened the skies
for seven months -- hence the front page attention given to
Dr. Sarawi's statements. Despite that disaster, Kuwaitis
still do not have a great sense of responsibility for their
environment, and we remain skeptical that the current crisis
will change their attitudes. Nonetheless, we might be able
to use the present attention focused on the environment,
coupled with the positive relationship being forged through
USG-GOK cooperation on this issue, as a springboard toward
encouraging vital environmental reforms in Kuwait once the
conflict is over.

© Scoop Media

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