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UN to help tackle Iraq pollution

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UN to help tackle Iraq pollution

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has said it will help Iraq clean up the toxic pollution caused by a decade of conflict.

Starting next month, Unep will assess pollution "hotspots", ranging from oil spills to waste from military vehicles.

In a separate plan, it also hopes to analyse sites that may be polluted by excessive levels of depleted uranium.

Unep has said it will take many years to clear up the chronic damage to air, water and soil that Iraq has suffered.

Toxic chemicals

In the first leg of the operation, Unep will visit five of the hundreds of locations that Iraqi scientists fear are contaminated.

These will consist of industrial sites around Baghdad and Fallujah that contain thousands of tonnes of toxic chemicals and pollutants, which pose a direct threat to human health.

"We estimate that there are more than 300 sites in Iraq considered to be contaminated to various levels by a range of pollutants," said Klaus Toepfer, Unep executive director.

Examples include the 5,000 tonnes of spilled chemicals at the Al-Doura refinery, and a seed store where 50 tonnes of seeds coated with dangerous fungicide were looted, raising the threat of contaminated bread supplies.

"My country is faced with a wide range of pressing issues that must be addressed if the Iraqi people are to enjoy a stable, healthy and prosperous future," the Iraqi environment minister, Mishkat Moumin, said.

Depleted uranium

Mr Toepfer revealed that Iraq's new government has also asked for help in clearing up hazardous depleted uranium, left by bombs used in the US-led conflicts.

Depleted uranium dust has been blamed for causing severe illness long after ammunition explodes, and became the focus of a propaganda battle under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Britain had handed over detailed maps of locations in southern Iraq where about 1.9 tonnes of depleted uranium was used in 2003, to help the clean-up, Mr Toepfer said.

"We did not get additional coordinates or information from the United States so far," he said. "We need the coordinates otherwise a study or assessment is not possible."

Unep is coordinating the whole project in cooperation with the Iraqi government as part of a wider $4.7m scheme funded by donors including Japan, Germany and Britain.


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