United Nations Compensation Commission - Environmental Damage

Environmental Damage

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia suffered gross environmental damage at the end of the Iraqi occupation, as the retreating Iraqi forces blew up oil wells and released millions of barrels (estimates go as high as 11 million) of crude oil into the Persian Gulf. In Kuwait the damage to the environment was largely terrestrial in the form of tarcrete and oil lakes surrounding the damaged wells. In 2001 the UNCC awarded Kuwait $108 million (the money to be taken from the Oil-for-food program) to study the effects of the environmental devastation to the desert and the coastline, and the effects of the oil fires on public health. Most of Kuwait's desert is in fact sparse shrubland and capable of sustaining sheep, goats and camels. Little damage was found to Kuwait's shoreline and fishing industry. As a result of these studies claims were prepared for several billion dollars worth of damages to the desert ecosystem resulting from the oil fires and uncontrolled releases, and from military manoeuvres by both Iraqi forces and coalition military.

In contrast, the Saudi study (funded with $109 million from the Oil-for-Food Programme via the UNCC) found most damage to the coastline. The anti-clockwise current pattern of the Gulf forced the floating spill onto the Saudi coastline and fouled approximately 800 km (250 km as the crow flies) of almost pristine shoreline. Commercial fish stocks (shrimp and fin fish) plummeted but recovered within a few years. An extensive and very detailed study of the shoreline was conducted at 250 meter intervals for the entire affected length, from the high water mark to low water, to determine the extent of the contamination and its effect on biota. The Saudis similarly claimed several billion dollars to compensate for environmental damage.

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