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From: 魏美莉
 
War Threatens Fragile Iraqi Marshes, Birds
 
 

CAMBRIDGE, UK, February 24, 2003 (ENS) - Threats posed to the environment by war in Iraq have been identified by BirdLife International, a global alliance of national conservation nongovernmental organizations working in more than 100 countries. In a package of information, maps and photos sent to the United Nations Environment Programme, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, France, Russia, the UK and USA - and the Government of Iraq, the organization outlined threats to local people and key natural sites.

Iraq contains 42 Important Bird Areas, and the Mesopotamian Marshes Endemic Bird Area, which is inhabited by those birds native to Iraq and found nowhere else.

 

Oil well fire, Gulf War 1991 (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)
Unsuspecting birds migrating across Iraq on their ages old flight paths will encounter oil spills, fires, toxics and blasts.

"Waders and waterbirds will be particularly at risk from oil spills because Iraq is at the northern end of the Arabian Gulf which is one of the top five sites in the world for wintering wader birds and a key refuelling area for hundreds of thousands of migratory waterbirds during the spring and autumn period," said Mike Evans, a BirdLife researcher who visited the Arabian Gulf in 1991.

In 1991 BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds sent three teams of scientists to the Gulf region to collaborate with the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development, known as BirdLife in Saudi Arabia, to assess the environmental impacts of the Gulf War and resulting oil pollution. The results were published in the "Journal of the Ornithological Society of the Middle East."

The BirdLife package delivered Wednesday and other reports show that the 1990-1991 Gulf War resulted in the largest marine oil spills in history with six to eight million barrels of crude oil spilled, severely polluting 560 kilometers (347 miles) of coast, obliterating intertidal ecosystems and resulting in large oil slicks that damaged the northern Arabian Gulf. Extensive mechanical damage by the armies harmed the fragile desert crust and its ecosystem, BirdLife said.

Based on the environmental damage caused by the 1990-1991 Gulf War and data on the environmental effects of recent conflicts in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, BirdLife identified seven risks to the environment and biodiversity - and as a consequence also to local people - posed by war:

  1. Physical destruction and disturbance of natural habitats of international importance and wildlife resulting from weapons use

  2. Toxic pollution of natural habitats and wildlife resulting from oil spills or oil-well fires caused by fighting or deliberate damage

  3. Radiological, chemical or bio-toxic contamination of natural habitats and wildlife resulting from the use of weapons of mass destruction and conventional bombing of military or industrial facilities

  4. Physical destruction of natural habitats and wildlife resulting from increased human pressure caused by mass movements of refugees - water pollution, use of wood as fuel, hunting of wildlife.

  5. Burning of wetland and forest vegetation as a result of fighting or deliberate damage

  6. Desertification made worse by military vehicles and weapons use

  7. Extinction of endemic species or subspecies
"Until recently the impact of war on nature has often been ignored or obscured by the conflict itself," said Dr. Michael Rands, director and chief executive of BirdLife International from the organization's Cambridge headquarters. "As the 1990-1991 Gulf War showed, such conflicts have devastating effects on the environment, biodiversity and the quality of life of local people long after the cessation of hostilities."

 

Mesopotamian marshlands (Photo courtesy Iraq Foundation)
BirdLife says 16 globally threatened or near threatened bird species occur in the country, plus three unique endemic wetland bird species - Iraq Babbler, Basra Reed Warbler, Grey Hypocolius.

"It was the heart rending image of an oiled bird that became a symbol of the environmental impact of the first Gulf War. BirdLife International hopes that images of oiled birds do not once again fill our television screens in 2003," said Dr. Rands.

Before their near total destruction between 1991 and 2002, the 15,000 square kilometer Mesopotamian marshlands formed one of the most extensive wetland ecosystems in western Eurasia.

This complex of interconnected freshwater lakes, marshes and inundated floodplains follows the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, extending from Baghdad in the north to Basra in the south. Today only 50 square kilometers remain, but these remnants have the potential to help restore the marshlands, the organization says.

The United Nations Environment Programme report on the Mesopotamian Marshlands issued last year shows that destruction of the marshes in the 1990s had a devastating effect on wildlife and people, with an impact on global biodiversity from Siberia to southern Africa.

"Mammals and fish that existed only in the marshlands are now considered extinct. Coastal fisheries in the northern Gulf, dependent on the marshlands for spawning grounds, have also experienced a sharp decline," the UNEP report states. A sub-species of otter and the bandicoot rat are believed to have become extinct.

The impact of this destruction has deprived the indigenous Ma'dan people who have lived in these marshes for 5,000 years, pursuing a sustainable way of life based on the abundant fish and wildlife living in the wetlands, of their traditional homeland.

These marshlands were spawning grounds for a multi-million dollar shrimp fishery in the Arabian Gulf and also provided 60 percent of fish eaten in Iraq. Most of Iraq's rice, sugarcane and water buffalo used to be reared in the marshlands.

The the Mesopotamian Marshlands were also heavily degraded by the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Much of the fighting in that war took place in and around these wetlands resulting in extensive burning, heavy bombing and the widespread use of napalm and chemical weapons.

"A new war in Iraq could lead to their final destruction," said BirdLife in its submission to UNEP, Iraq, and the Security Council.