Financial Problems Plague Iraq Cleanup Agency
by Léonie Sherman

Iraq's first environment ministry is already running into problems. The government has allotted a budget of one million dollars for the fledgling ministry's first year, and much of this will probably pay the salaries of the ministry's 700 staff.

Ali Aziz Hanush, an adviser to the interim environmental minister, worries that not much money will be left for cleaning up Iraq's polluted environment. The new ministry has prioritized 35 projects, estimated to cost 200 million dollars.

War, trade embargoes, and over three decades of neglect under Saddam have devastated the environment in Iraq. One serious cause for alarm is the pollution from scores of depleted-uranium weapons used by US-led forces in both the 1991 and 2003 invasions.

Other more mundane causes of pollution are numerous. In July, a fire at a sulfur factory near Mosul lasted three weeks, releasing fumes that locals say killed at least four people.

Both the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers have been contaminated by crude oil, and thieves have ransacked potentially hazardous and radioactive materials during a wave of looting that broke out last April when Saddam's regime was toppled.

The interim health minister, Khdayyir Abbas, reported that diseases associated with contaminated water, such as cholera, malaria, typhoid, and diarrhea, have all increased in recent years.

The solution to Iraq's environmental problems may be twofold. Hanush is seeking international aid from the World Bank and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to begin making progress in his new ministry's work, while Abbas is creating a department of "ecological coordination," which will bring together 15 representatives from different ministries.

Hanush says that aid from the international community is crucial. Abbas insists that without the department of ecological coordination, the health ministry will be unable to accomplish its goals.

Léonie Sherman is a freelance writer and radio reporter.

© Earth Island Journal, Summer 2004