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Kuwait sees heavier Gulf War environmental damage

Kuwait sees heavier Gulf War environmental damage
GENEVA - Kuwait said that oil well fires set by Iraqi troops in the 1991 Gulf War, and measures taken to extinguish them, had caused greater environmental damage than previously thought.
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 destruction. In his report to the U.N. Compensation Commission (UNCC), whose Governing Council began a three-day meeting on Tuesday, 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 square kms, rather than the 210 square kms stated in Kuwait\'s pending claim, according to Al Mudhaf. HUGE ENVIRONMENTAL CLAIMS Kuwait has already received $16.5 billion 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. It has approved $42.6 billion in claims by individuals, companies and governments. Last week, the UNCC\'s Governing Council 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 the proceeds from the U.N.\'s oil-for-food programme, which allows Iraq to sell oil. The Governing Council, composed of the same 15 members as the U.N. Security Council, is also due to approve payment of some $67,000 to Iran and $8.2 million to Saudi Arabia this week for proven environmental damage, according to diplomats. Story by Stephanie Nebehay REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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