>From Stefan Michalowski <>

Dear Benny,

In recent months, several CCNet postings have made reference to the NEO workshop that was convened under the aegis of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The workshop, entitled "Near Earth Objects: Risks, Policies and Actions" was held in Frascati, Italy,on January 20-22, 2003,  It brought together leading NEO experts and government officials to examine the NEO issue as it relates to public safety. The final report from the workshop, containing findings and conclusions for OECD governments, is now available at This site also contains the paper commissioned from Dr. Clark Chapman, entitled "How a Near-Earth Object Impact Might Affect Society".

The final report underwent extensive review and revision by the workshop participants. It is being submitted to government officials, who will consider whether they wish to implement its recommendations, based on their priorities and procedures. The report will be discussed at the next meeting of the Global Science Forum at the end of June. Forum Delegates will then decide whether further actions under the aegis of OECD are warranted.

Best regards,

Stefan Michalowski, PhD
Executive Secretary, Global Science Forum
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
Paris, France
tel. 33 1 45 24 92 89


CCNet, 37/2003 -  1 April 2003

"By and large, conservationists agree that war is a bad thing. Surprisingly, however, armed conflict - or the threat of it - can sometimes be good for the environment."
--The Economist, 27 March 2003

"Most of the thousands of American soldiers crossing the desert of southeastern Iraq on their way toward Baghdad probably don't know they are crossing the location of the biblical Garden of Eden -- and the site of a present-day environmental tragedy. As soon as the war ends and humanitarian relief begins, a band of scientists and environmentalists is poised to attempt to save a priceless ecosystem and a treasure of human history."
--Dan Whipple, UPI Science News, 29 March 2003

"The drainage was part of Mr Hussein's repressive anti-Shia measures... These measures
included the poisoning and napalming of the marshes and anybody living there. Only 7% of
the original marshland remains. If the drainage continues, the rest is likely to vanish
within five years. Open-water areas are now dusty salt-pans. A productive ecosystem, which
supported hundreds of thousands of people and supplied 60% of the country's fish, has
almost vanished. A coalition victory could change that. Ed Maltby, a researcher at Royal
Holloway, a college in the University of London, says that getting the marshes back to the
state they were in 15 years ago will be a challenge - but it could be done."
--The Economist, 27 March 2003

    United Nations Environment Programme, 30 March 2003

    Fox News, 14 March 2003 

    Reason Online, 26 March 2003

    The Economist, 27 March 2003

    UPI Science News, 29 March 2003

    Iraq Foundation

    Human Rights Watch, January 2003

    Reason Online, 31 March 2003

    John Michael Williams <>

     ITAR-TASS, 31 March 2003


>From United Nations Environment Programme, 30 March,

Nairobi, 31 March 2003 - Toxic smoke from burning oil wells in southern Iraq and from oil-filled trenches and bomb-ignited fires in Baghdad are the clearest evidence so far that the current conflict may further damage Iraq's already highly stressed environment, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

"The black smoke that we see on television and in satellite pictures contains dangerous chemicals that can cause immediate harm to human beings - particularly children and people with respiratory problems - and pollute the region's natural ecosystems. There is an urgent need to monitor air quality in the affected areas as soon as possible," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.

"Meanwhile, although the oil fires in southern Iraq are much smaller than what we saw in 1991, they too remain a potential concern for human health and the environment," he said.

Satellite images reveal that smoke plumes from the Rumailah oil fields near Basra have weakened over the past several days but continue to threaten inhabited areas with smog. Smoke from oil fires contains a range of contaminants such as sulphur, mercury, dioxins and furans. Fortunately, only three of the seven oil wells originally set on fire are still burning.

UNEP is currently monitoring events in Iraq in an effort to identify potential environmental risks. Aside from the smoke, the other major evidence so far of environmental stress is the increase in plankton productivity in the Shatt Al Arab estuary and surrounding waters.

The above-normal level of activity may be due to the larger quantities of nutrients draining into the Gulf as raw sewage from Basra through canals and the various waterways associated with the Shatt Al Arab. Wastewater and garbage from the unusually large number of ships in the area are likely to also contribute to the phytoplankton blooms. In the past, increased plankton productivity in shallow waters such as the Kuwait Bay has led to large die-offs of fish.

Other potential risks that typically need to be monitored during conflict include the possible destruction of petrochemical plants and factories and storage facilities of industries that employ hazardous chemicals and generate toxic wastes. Among others, these could include the foam, fertilizer, paper and pharmaceutical industries.

UNEP is currently conducting a background study to gather data and information on the Iraq environment. This study will facilitate any future field investigations aimed at identifying pollution "hotspots" threatening human health and the environment.

UNEP is also prepared to provide technical advice in the post-conflict period on reducing environmental risks and rehabilitating damaged sites. This work should be integrated into humanitarian assistance programmes involving water, sanitation, refugees and displaced persons, shelter and so on.

"Rapid action to repair environmental damage can often support humanitarian relief efforts in vital ways," said Mr. Toepfer. "For the longer term well-being of Iraq's people, it is essential that environmental concerns be incorporated into any future rehabilitation programmes."

Funding for environment-related activities has been included in the United Nations' recent US$2.2 billion appeal for emergency assistance to Iraq and neighboring countries over the coming six months. Additional funding has been provided to UNEP by the Government of Switzerland.


>From Fox News, 14 March 2003,2933,81045,00.html 
By Steven Milloy

Part of anti-war-think is the possibility Saddam Hussein might set Iraq's 1,500 oil wells ablaze. It's not unlikely since Saddam did just that to 600 Kuwaiti oil wells in 1991.
The anti-warriors forecast such sabotage would have catastrophic consequences.

"No one anticipated that Saddam Hussein would burn Kuwaiti oil fields, causing an epic health and environmental disaster. No one knows what he could do now," shrieked Physicians for Social Responsibility in a recent media release.

Greenpeace claims, "Fires from 600 deliberately damaged Kuwaiti oil wells ... created a blanket of soot, gases and aggressive chemicals [that] led to immediate respiratory problems in local populations and generated serious long-term risks of birth defects and cancer in exposed people."

The media have also jumped on the oil fire-scare bandwagon.

The Associated Press reported, "The wind-borne pollution [from Kuwait] touched off health and environmental problems far beyond the Gulf." The AP failed to elaborate further on what the health problems were.

Agence France-Presse reported, "The release of oil and smoke from [Iraqi] fires would likely have long-term health effects." Again, the alleged health effects were unspecified.

A Missouri newspaper even found a Gulf War vet who "suspects his exposure to fuel and chemicals from the burning oil wells may have contributed to his memory loss, blurred vision, throat problems, nerve damage and muscle damage."

Would burning oil wells cause health calamities?

First, there's no question the Kuwaiti oil well fires produced much pollution.

Peak soot emissions were equivalent to 3 million heavy-duty diesel trucks being driven at 30 miles per hour, according to a 1992 study in the journal Science. A May 1991 report estimated the then-526 burning wells emitted 3.8 million pounds of particles into the atmosphere per hour.

That said, virtually all published studies of people exposed to those emissions haven't reported significant health effects.

A U.S. Army health risk assessment in December 1991 characterized the long-term health effects for exposed troops and civilian employees as "minimal."

The risk of cancer - based on many worst-case assumptions - was estimated to be about 3 "extra" cancers per 1,000,000 people exposed to the emissions. Even if true, this "extra" risk would not be detectable given about 300,000 to 400,000 of those people will develop cancer anyway.

The Army reported the risk of health effects other than cancer to be above levels considered acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA standards, however, are set far below levels known to cause health effects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted surveys of workers in Kuwait City and firefighters in the oil fields in October 1991. Blood samples were tested and compared with a group of people living in the U.S. Although the median concentration of certain substances (volatile organic compounds or VOCs) was quite elevated among firefighters, VOC concentrations in non-firefighting personnel were equal or lower than levels found among people in the U.S. survey.

A May 2002 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology compared postwar disease incidence between veterans exposed to the oil well fires and veterans not exposed - a total of 405,142 study subjects. "These data do not support the hypothesis that Gulf War veterans have an increased risk of postwar morbidity from exposure to Kuwaiti oil well fire smoke," concluded U.S. Navy researchers.

A November 2002 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives considered 1,560 Gulf War veterans, 94 percent of whom were in the Gulf theater during the oil well fires and 21 percent who remained for more than 100 days during the fires. "These findings do not support speculation that exposures to oil fire smoke caused respiratory symptoms among veterans," concluded the University of Iowa researchers.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers reported in 1999 the acute toxicity of particles from the Kuwaiti fires were no more "toxic" than particles collected from the air of St. Louis, Mo., or Washington, D.C.

A postwar survey conducted in Kuwaiti clinics and emergency rooms reported an increase in visits for upper respiratory irritation, but there was no documented evidence of an increase in visits for acute upper and lower respiratory infections or asthma, reported the World Federation of Public Health Associations in 1997.

Faced with the lack of evidence of health effects, anti-warriors might counter that it has only been 12 years since the Kuwaiti oil well fires and health effects like cancer may take 20 or more years to develop.

Perhaps. On the other hand, there's no persuasive evidence that air pollution - regardless of its magnitude - has ever caused a single case of cancer.

It's no wonder the anti-warriors attempt to alarm the public with vague warnings of health effects from potential oil well fires - one look at the Kuwaiti evidence and their scare goes up in smoke.

Copyright 2003, Fox News


>From Reason Online, 26 March 2003

By Ronald Bailey

"The United States has conducted two nuclear wars. The first is against Japan in 1945, the second in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991." So declares activist Helen Caldicott in a half-page ad placed by a Japanese anti-nuclear group in the March 24 New York Times. If you didn't hear about the Persian Gulf Hiroshima, it's because she's actually referring to depleted uranium (DU) munitions. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark says that these "are an unacceptable threat to life, a violation of international law and an assault on human dignity." Using them results in a "deterioration of genetic health" and "genocide," declares anti-nuke activist Tim Judson. The Green Party claims that they are "the likely cause of numerous health problems in thousands of Gulf War veterans and their families, including cancer, leukemia, tumors, and high rates of birth defects because of genetic damage."

DU is 1.7 times denser than lead, and munitions encased in it are self-sharpening, enabling them to drill 25 percent further through armor. (Armor-piercing tungsten alloy munitions, by contrast, blunt and mushroom when they hit.) This self-sharpening process produces DU dust, most of which falls to the ground within 50 yards of its impact.

Such weapons are used most frequently against enemy tanks. DU is also used to clad many U.S. armored vehicles, thus making them largely impenetrable to conventional anti-tank munitions. It is also used for counterweights in airplanes to help keep them level, and as radiation shielding to protect health care workers from exposure to medical X-rays.

DU is a by-product - activists would say a waste product - of the process of separating the highly fissionable U-235 isotope out of uranium to produce fuel for nuclear reactors. It is called "depleted" because most of the lighter uranium isotopes, U-234 and U-235, are removed from natural uranium, leaving behind uranium consisting of 99.8 percent of U-238. The result is 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium.

Is it as dangerous as Caldicott and Clark claim? A Department of Defense-sponsored review of the scientific literature by the RAND think tank concluded that "there are no peer reviewed published reports of detectable increases of cancer or other negative health effects from radiation exposure to inhaled or ingested natural uranium at levels far exceeding those likely in the Gulf." One need not be a conspiracy theorist to believe that the Defense Department's analysis and reporting on the substance's health and environmental consequences might be biased. But many independent organizations and scientists find little to worry about either.

What happens to DU if someone eats it? According to a European Union study released in 2001, "most of the ingested DU (between 98% and 99.8%, depending on the solubility of the uranium compound) will be rapidly eliminated in the faeces." The vast majority of any remaining uranium will be "rapidly cleared from the blood" in a few weeks. Similarly, the majority of inhaled DU dust will also be cleared via the bloodstream and kidneys. The EU report concluded that "exposure to DU could not produce any detectable health effects under realistic assumptions of the doses that would be received."

That said, DU is a heavy metal; and like lead, nickel, and other heavy metals, it is chemically toxic when consumed in large quantities, especially harming the kidneys. However, studies looking at likely exposures to DU during and after battles have found that its effects on the kidneys of soldiers and civilians are mild and transient.

Another 2001 report to the European Parliament compared exposures to DU to those experienced by uranium miners and concluded, "The fact that there is no evidence of an association between exposures-sometimes high and lasting since the beginning of the uranium industry-and health damages such as bone cancer, lymphatic or other forms of leukemia shows that these diseases as a consequence of an uranium exposure are either not present or very exceptional."

The World Health Organization agrees that DU is not a great health risk. Its 2003 fact sheet on the topic declares that "because DU is only weakly radioactive, very large amounts of dust (on the order of grams) would have to be inhaled for the additional risk of lung cancer to be detectable in an exposed group. Risks for other radiation-induced cancers, including leukaemia, are considered to be very much lower than for lung cancer." Another WHO report found, "The radiological hazard is likely to be very small. No increase of leukemia or other cancers has been established following exposure to uranium or DU."

What about those military reports? Dan Fahey, a former naval officer who served in the first Gulf War and is a long-time anti-DU activist, asserts that Defense Department spokespeople "have lied about the health of US Gulf War veterans exposed to DU and exaggerated the importance of DU rounds." What was the alleged lie? The Pentagon has said that no veterans in a small follow-up study of Gulf War soldiers who had been exposed to DU have contracted cancer. Fahey cites a memo that states that one veteran who had been recently added to the study has had lymphatic cancer. Fahey does acknowledge that "it is possible that this veteran's cancer is not linked to his confirmed exposure to DU."

Fahey thinks the Pentagon exaggerates the importance of DU munitions and points out that DU rounds probably took out only one-seventh of the Iraqi tanks destroyed during the first Gulf War. But Fahey also admits that there is very little evidence that DU is severely toxic. He also refutes other activists' alarmist claims that civilians have been severely harmed by depleted uranium. "There are no credible studies linking exposure to DU with any cancers or illnesses among people in Iraq, the Balkans, or Afghanistan," he declares.

If DU is not notably harmful to human health or the environment, why the fierce opposition to it? A lot of it has to do with conventional anti-nuclear activism: Some people automatically object to anything that hints of nuclear radiation. Second, some of the opposition is the result of a successful Iraqi disinformation campaign claiming that exposure to DU had caused thousands of cancers and birth defects to innocent civilians. When the WHO offered to investigate the claims, Iraqi officials flatly refused the offer. Other than trying to gain international sympathy, Pentagon officials argue that one of the real aims of the Iraqi campaign was to get DU munitions outlawed internationally so they would not have to face them again.

In addition, many U.S. veterans who returned from the Gulf War believe that they are suffering from "Gulf War Syndrome," a constellation of disparate medical problems that they think can be traced to their service in that war. One suggested explanation for their problems might be exposure to DU dust. But as we've seen, no credible studies show that exposure to DU is likely to be causing their problems.

Finally, there is always a claque of activists who simply will pick up any stick with which to beat and demonize the United States. For them, the myth of severe DU toxicity is just another handy stick.

Ronald Bailey, Reason's science correspondent, is the editor of Global Warming and Other Eco Myths (Prima Publishing) and Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet(McGraw-Hill).

Copyright 2003, Reason Online

>From The Economist, 27 March 2003

What can the past tell about the effect of military conflict on the environment?

DURING the 1991 Gulf war, the snowy-white peaks of Iraq's northern mountains turned black. Soot from burning oil created a biblical rain that stained everything from houses to mountainsides. In Afghanistan, a country devastated by more than a quarter of a century of warfare, people still fish with rocket launchers. It seems obvious that military conflict takes a dreadful toll on the environment. Yet previous wars suggest that the connection is not so obvious as one might suppose.

The main environmental problems that conflict in Iraq may bring are the pollution of water by sewage, the felling of trees to meet energy shortages, the physical degradation of the land, and pollution from materials such as oil. The seriousness of any of these problems will depend largely on the length and severity of the war, and on how quickly aid agencies can get in afterwards.

In Iraq, the chief worries are pollution from oil spillages and burning oil wells. In the 1991 war, some 6m-8m barrels of oil were spilt into the sea, producing an oil-slick that cost more than $700m to clean up. That was bad. But it was not the environmental apocalypse that many had feared. And although it is still early in the current conflict, there is some ground for optimism that this level of pollution will not happen again. In Iraq's southern Rumaila oil fields, which produce 60% of the country's oil, only nine out of 1,000 wells are reported to be alight. In 1991, 600 Kuwaiti wells were set on fire, 76 wells were uncapped and 99 wells were damaged.

Another cause for concern, the use of ordnance tipped with depleted uranium (DU), may also be less of a problem than many fear. A report on the use of DU in the fighting that racked Bosnia in the mid-1990s was published on March 25th by the post-conflict assessment unit (PCAU), a branch of the United Nations. It finds that no medically significant levels of radioactivity can be measured there. Of 15 sites inspected by the PCAU, only two have airborne radioactive particles, and these are within safety limits.

Fight and flight

Oil fires are visible, and radioactivity is scary. But the worst environmental problems associated with warfare are more subtle. The biggest is the displacement of large numbers of people. The PCAU has found that even though bombs, troop movements and landmines caused awful problems in Afghanistan, the most serious long-term consequences have resulted from the uncontrolled use of resources, particularly the cutting of forests for firewood, by 6m cold, hungry and often well-armed refugees. After three decades of conflict, the forests are almost gone, lakes have dried up and topsoil is blowing away. The productivity of the land, in other words, has been destroyed.

In Palestine, too, the most visible kinds of environmental damage may not be the most threatening. Bulldozers and tanks chew up the scenery. But another report by the PCAU suggests that the biggest environmental concerns should be the quality and scarcity of water. Pekka Haavisto, who chaired the UNEP taskforces in Afghanistan, Palestine and the Balkans, is particularly worried about the declining quality of fresh water in Gaza. Here, continuing conflict prevents the Palestinian Authority from building sewerage and water-cleaning systems. As a result, groundwater is being polluted by agricultural chemicals and by waste from landfills and the burning of refuse. The same applies in Iraq, where conflict over the past decade has caused widespread damage to water and sewerage infrastructure, and reduced the amount of water available by more than half.

After the fall
In Iraq, much of this damage is deliberate. A few years ago, the government decided to drain the marshes of lower Mesopotamia, in what amounted to an act of environmental warfare. These marshes, which some scholars believe are the area referred to in the Bible as the Garden of Eden, are inhabited by people who have had the temerity to oppose Saddam Hussein. The marsh Arabs are Shia Muslims, who are suspected of sympathising with the Shia government of Iran. The drainage was part of Mr Hussein's repressive anti-Shia measures.

According to the AMAR foundation, which works to assist marsh Arabs and other refugees, these measures included the poisoning and napalming of the marshes and anybody living there. Only 7% of the original marshland remains. If the drainage continues, the rest is likely to vanish within five years. Open-water areas are now dusty salt-pans. A productive ecosystem, which supported hundreds of thousands of people and supplied 60% of the country's fish, has almost vanished.

A coalition victory could change that. Ed Maltby, a researcher at Royal Holloway, a college in the University of London, says that getting the marshes back to the state they were in 15 years ago will be a challenge-but it could be done. Last month, he and his colleagues in the Eden Again project, a scientific collaboration financed by an Iraqi human-rights group, met to work on a restoration plan. The idea is to start with pilot areas, thousands of hectares in size, and then expand them. There are huge problems ahead, including salt and pesticide contamination, the need for additional water flow from Turkey, and, of course, money. But Dr Maltby says it is an opportunity and a test of the world's ability to respond to one of the worst environmental disasters for a generation.

Eden again?

By and large, conservationists agree that war is a bad thing. Surprisingly, however, armed conflict - or the threat of it - can sometimes be good for the environment. The demilitarised zone between North and South Korea is a 250km-long strip of mountains, jungle and wetlands untouched by humans since 1953. It is now home to wildlife extinct elsewhere on the peninsula. Landmines laid in civil wars in Africa have discouraged hunters and allowed game to flourish in areas from which it had previously disappeared. In Congo, anarchy has prevented mining companies and timber firms from spreading into the country's remaining wild areas. Although many large animals have been killed by gun-toting soldiers, recent aerial surveys suggest that Congo's rhinos have survived the conflict well; some 6,000 elephants remain too.

The people of Congo would doubtless prefer less anarchy, even if it meant fewer elephants. But the fact remains that when men are busy killing each other, nature sometimes gains.

Copyright 2003, The Economist


>From UPI Science News, 29 March 2003

By Dan Whipple

Most of the thousands of American soldiers crossing the desert of southeastern Iraq on their way toward Baghdad probably don't know they are crossing the location of the biblical Garden of Eden -- and the site of a present-day environmental tragedy.

As soon as the war ends and humanitarian relief begins, a band of scientists and environmentalists is poised to attempt to save a priceless ecosystem and a treasure of human history.

Mesopotamia -- literally, the "Land Between the (Tigris and Euphrates) Rivers" -- is the cradle of civilization. The area is thought by archaeologists to be the spot where agriculture was first practiced, allowing humans to abandon hazardous hunting and gathering for the more stable pursuit of farming. As far as scholars can tell, it is the traditional land where Adam and Eve dwelt.

The area of southern Iraq bordering Iran -- the "Fertile Crescent," as it is known still -- was not always the trackless desert waste now seen on TV and described in news reports. In fact, as recently as 1991, according to the United Nations Environmental Program, the marshlands extended over their original area of 15,000 to 20,000 square kilometers (5,800 to 7,700 square miles).

"When the soldiers crossed the bridge at An Nasiriyah, 15 years ago, you would have seen an endless sea of water, green and blue," Suzie Alwash, project director of the Eden Again Project of the Iraq Foundation, told UPI's Blue Planet. "On TV today, you see an endless sea of desert -- it's heartbreaking."

Extensive damming by Iran and, especially, by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has led to the drying of over 90 percent of these ancient marshes, leading to what UNEP has described as "one of the world's greatest environmental disasters."

The organization's executive director, Klaus Toepfer, said UNEP has a unit ready to aid Iraq with marsh restoration efforts as soon as the coalition military commanders permit it. But while the U.S. State Department has supported some studies on the marsh region, the UN's role in post-war Iraq remains unclear, given the tensions between the United States and that international body.

In a written statement, Toepfer said UNEP's Post Conflict Assessment Unit, which has carried out successful environmental studies and drawn up action plans for the Balkans and, more recently, Afghanistan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, stands ready to assist in any project to restore the wetlands.

State department officials were not available to comment on the future of the marsh restoration.

"The loss of the Mesopotamian marshlands is one of the world's worst human-engineered environmental disasters," Adlai Amor, spokesman for the World Resources Institute, told UPI. "This was historically what Biblical scholars looked at as the likely site of the garden of Eden."

The marshlands were the home to the "Marsh Arabs" -- the Ma'dan group of tribes -- inheritors of a culture that stretches back more than 5,000 years toward the dawn of human history.

In addition to the millennia-old culture, the marshlands are critical habitat for numerous endangered and threatened species. Yet a UNEP study released at the World Water Forum on March 22 in Kyoto said 3 percent of the marshes have disappeared in the last two years.

They actually are composed of three marsh systems -- al-Hammer marsh, Central marsh and al-Hawizeh marsh. According to satellite images, only a small portion of al-Hawizeh marsh, which straddles the Iran-Iraq border, remains and it could disappear completely within five years, according to UNEP.

WRI's Amor said wildlife experts fear three species native to the area have gone extinct: a subspecies of the smooth-coated otter, the bandicoot rat and the gunther. Threatened by the decline are the African darter and sacred ibis, the only populations in the Mideast, along with the Iraqi populations of the pygmy cormorant and goliath heron.

"Since the marshes are important as a staging and wintering area for migratory birds on the Western Siberia-Caspian-Nile flyway from the Arctic to southern Africa," Amor told UPI, "it has put at risk at least 66 species of birds. The global population of the endemic Iraq babbler, the endemic Basra reed babbler and the Dalmatian pelican may have already crashed."

Other wildlife threatened by the war include the cheetah, ferruginous duck, spotted eagle, imperial eagle and Euphrates soft shell turtle.

Draining the marshes has been under way since at least the 1950s as the upper basin nations -- primarily Turkey, Iran and Iraq -- have dammed the tributaries for water and power. But the problem reached crisis proportions after the 1991 Gulf War. When U.S. forces withdrew, President George H.W. Bush urged local dissidents to rebel against Saddam Hussein.

The Marsh Arabs did. When Bush failed to follow through on his promise of assistance, they were brutally crushed by the regime and the desertification of their homeland began in earnest.

According to Human Rights Watch, "Numbering some 250,000 people as recently as 1991, the Marsh Arabs today are believed to number fewer than 40,000 in their ancestral homeland. Many have been arrested, 'disappeared,' or executed. Most have become refugees abroad or are internally displaced in Iraq as a result of Iraqi oppression. The population and culture of the Marsh Arabs, who have resided continuously in the marshlands for more than 5,000 years, are being eradicated."

Alwash's Eden Again Project is dedicated to restoring the Mesopotamian marshes in a post-Saddam Iraq. But she said this means doing more than simply flooding the area again. The group has convened a number of wetlands experts to consider the problem. They have developed a plan for "the first couple of years," she said.

"First, we need to make it safe for humans," she told UPI. "There are going to be ordnance and poisons and toxins that have been introduced into the marshlands," some deliberately and some because the rivers have served as an open sewer for the past 15 years.

"Some former lakes have turned into salt pans and there may be a two-foot-thick salt crust," Alwash continued. "If you put water back in there, you're just creating a saline lake that nothing can live in. And some (lakes) have been desiccated for over a decade and may not react properly when they are rehydrated."

In addition, there will not be enough water available, because of upstream damming, to return the area to its original state. That poses an interesting philosophical question: What, exactly, constitutes the "original state" of a 5,000 year old culture that stemmed from Eden?

Copyright 2001-2003 United Press International


>From Iraq Foundation

A New Project Sponsored by the Iraq Foundation

The Iraq Foundation is sponsoring a new project, Eden Again, for the restoration of the southern marshes which were the target of a campaign by the Iraqi government in the early to mid nineties. The environmental and military campaign desiccated the marshlands, destroyed the environment, burnt villages, and drove hundreds of thousands of the indigenous ma'dan population into external exile or internal displacement. This project is significant for its human, environmental and historical impact.


The Mesopotamian Marshlands, historically covering over 20,000 square kilometers of interconnected lakes, mudflats, and wetlands within modern-day Iraq and Iran, have disappeared. In what the United Nations has declared "one of the world's greatest environmental disasters," over 90% of the marshlands have been desiccated through the combined actions of upstream damming and downstream drainage projects undertaken by the regime of Saddam Hussein.


The extensive marshlands of Mesopotamia represent a unique component of our global heritage and resources (UNEP, 2001). They play a key role in the intercontinental flyway of migratory birds, support endangered species, and sustain fisheries of the Persian Gulf. Biblical scholars regard the marshes as the site of the legendary "Garden of Eden." Historically they nurtured the culture and civilization of the Sumerians who produced the first alphabet and the earliest epics.

The current marsh-dwellers, the Ma'dan, are our only link with this rich cultural past. Following the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the Ma'dan were important elements in the uprising against Saddam Hussein's regime and the marshes offered a safe haven for the resistance. To end the rebellion and punish the freedom fighters, the regime implemented an extensive system of drainage and water diversion structures that have resulted in the almost complete desiccation of the marshes. This has resulted in (UNEP, 2001):

* destruction of a 5,000 year old cultural heritage that represents the modern world's link to the roots of its civilization
* extinction of several endemic animal and botanical species that depended on the habitat of the marshes;
* disappearance of the way-station for migratory birds, with adverse effects potentially spanning the continents of Eurasia and Africa;
* saltwater intrusion into the Shatt al-Arab, causing disruption of fisheries in the Persian Gulf;
* higher soil salinity in the marshes and adjacent areas, depriving Iraq of much needed agricultural land
* considerable disruption to the agricultural and food supply of the whole of southern Iraq, especially in the loss of dairy products, fish, and rice cultivation;
* desertification of more than 20,000 square kilometers, and adverse indirect climatic impacts to adjacent land, and
* displacement of the Ma'dan population of over 300,000, forced to flee the marshes and become refugees in Iran or internally displaced in Iraq.


The Iraq Foundation, with funding by the U.S. Department of State, has undertaken a project to determine a viable method of restoring the Mesopotamian Marshlands. The EDEN AGAIN project includes development of a hydrologic model of the marshes to determine the quantity of water necessary to restore various areas of the marshlands. Initial results suggest that enough water is present in southern Iraq to partially restore the marshlands, if the water diversion structures constructed by the regime of Saddam Hussein are removed. Additionally, the project will analyze remote sensing data to define habitat types within the marshlands and their extent and distribution in the past. These data will be used to prioritize specific areas of the marshlands for a phased restoration and to determine the desired water coverage and habitat type within each area. A stakeholders meeting with expatriate Ma'dan (the indigenous people of the marshland) is currently being planned to assess the needs of indigenous people returning to the marshlands so that these needs can be incorporated in the plan. The study will also evaluate the anticipated challenges to restoration and determine solutions to problems such as high salinity, an aging seed bank, the need to emplace upstream and downstream hydraulic connections, and how to re-introduce a flood pulse. The anticipated work product is a framework restoration plan that establishes a vision of the wetland restored in its entirety, with more detailed plans for the areas prioritized for the initial phase of restoration.

The Iraq Foundation staff will be assisted in the development of this plan by a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) composed of international experts in wetlands restoration, and Iraqi expatriate scientists and engineers with local knowledge. The TAC is to meet in early 2002 to review initial results. A draft plan will be created in early 2003 and a final framework restoration plan will be produced by mid-2003.


Additional technical information on the status of the Mesopotamian Marshlands can be found in the United Nations Environmental Program report at For more information on the EDEN AGAIN project, you can contact the project director, Dr. Suzie Alwash, at (714) 606-2955 or e-mail her at


>From Human Rights Watch, January 2003

A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper
January 2003

This Briefing Paper details the ongoing campaign by the Ba'athist government of Iraq against the Ma'dan or so-called Marsh Arabs-the mostly Shi'a Muslim population that inhabits the marshlands (al-ahwar) in southern Iraq around the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Numbering some 250,000 people as recently as 1991, the Marsh Arabs today are believed to number fewer than 40,000 in their ancestral homeland. Many have been arrested, "disappeared," or executed; most have become refugees abroad or are internally displaced in Iraq as a result of Iraqi oppression. The population and culture of the Marsh Arabs, who have resided continuously in the marshlands for more than 5,000 years, are being eradicated.

In December 2002, Human Rights Watch published a policy paper, Justice for Iraq,1 detailing some of the serious crimes perpetrated in Iraq during the 1980s and 1990s. It urged the establishment of an international tribunal to bring to justice the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. This Briefing Paper focuses on one such crime.

For more than two decades, Shi'a Muslims across Iraq, who collectively form at least 60 percent of the Iraqi population, have been subjected to a violent government campaign of persecution, the authorities fearing that Iraqi Shi'a might seek to follow the example set by Shi'a in Iran.

Starting shortly after the end of the Gulf war in 1991, Marsh Arabs have been singled out for even more direct assault: mass arrests, enforced "disappearances," torture, and execution of political opponents have been accompanied by ecologically catastrophic drainage of the marshlands and the large-scale and systematic forcible transfer of part of the local population.

The repression against the Marsh Arabs since 1988 has been motivated by a combination of factors. In addition to the fact that Marsh Arabs are Shi'a, Iraqi authorities have targeted them because the remote terrain of the marshlands provided refuge for political

opponents of the regime and because, in 1991, Marsh Arabs themselves took part in rebellion against the Baghdad government. The marshlands also contain great wealth: they are today recognized as the site of some the richest oil deposits in the country.

Geographically and administratively the marshlands had remained relatively isolated from central government control until the end of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 - 1988. The forced resettlement plan and brutal counterinsurgency campaign begun by the government in the early 1990's prompted the United Nations special rapporteur on Iraq in 1992 to voice his concerns directly to the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council failed to act, leaving the United States, United Kingdom and France to impose an air exclusion zone in southern Iraq. This however, did not prevent Iraqi government forces from conducting ground operations backed by helicopters over the next few years. As evidence of the widespread destruction and human suffering grew with the number of refugees fleeing the area, the U.N. special rapporteur urged the U.N. to place human rights monitors on the ground - a request he repeated every year until his resignation in 1999. Both the Commission for Human Rights and the General Assembly adopted resolutions endorsing his recommendation and requesting the U.N. secretary-general to authorize the necessary funding, but it was never done. Iraq, needless to say, ignored the U.N.

Human Rights Watch believes that many of the acts of the Iraqi government's systematic repression of the Marsh Arabs constitute a crime against humanity. The crimes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of the Marsh Arabs during the decade of the 1990s.2 The attack involved the multiple commissions of acts in furtherance of state policy. The underlying crimes include:

Murder of thousands of unarmed civilians following the abortive March 1991 uprising, through summary execution and the indiscriminate bombardment and shelling of residential areas in towns and villages in the vicinity of Basra, al-Nasiriyya, al-`Amara and across the marshes region;

Forcible population transfer-coercive expulsion of part of the Marsh Arab population from their native villages to settlements on dry land on the outskirts of the marshes and along major highways to facilitate government control over them;

Arbitrary and prolonged imprisonment of thousands who had been arrested during and in the aftermath of military bombardment of residential areas in the marshes, including civilians and others suspected of anti-government activities;

Torture of Marsh Arab detainees held in government custody, in order to extract information from them, as punishment, and as a means to spread fear among the local population;

Enforced disappearances of many of the Marsh Arabs arrested during the 1990s, whose fate and whereabouts remain unresolved to date;

Persecution of the Marsh Arabs through the intentional and severe deprivation of their fundamental rights on the basis of their religious and political identity as a group.

Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Iraq to immediately release Marsh Arabs who remain in detention; to clarify the fate and whereabouts of those who "disappeared" following arrest; and to compensate the victims and the families of those who were arbitrarily held, tortured, "disappeared," or executed. The perpetrators of the crimes against the Marsh Arabs should be brought to justice.



>From Reason Online, 31 March 2003

By Charles Paul Freund

Looks like Peter Arnett is this week's poster boy for those who believe the press' behavior during the war is unnecessarily pessimistic, pointlessly defeatist, and in some cases agenda driven. Not without reason. During an interview on Ba'thist Iraqi TV over the weekend, Arnett, who has been covering Baghdad for NBC and National Geographic, went from reporter to actor when he announced that the Pentagon's "first war plan has failed" because military planners had "misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces."

He also said that "our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces . . . help those who oppose the war. . . ." That sort of thing makes it sound as if helping protestors was a welcome result of his reports, and it potentially undermines the credibility of other reporters. If Hussein's regime can get American network correspondents to talk that way on TV, it rather makes up for the destruction of Iraq's information/propaganda apparatus.

Arnett's now been canned by both of his employers, but the continuing din over the wartime role of the press didn't have much to do with him anyway. The military effort to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein was only a couple of days old when some reporters, columnists, and analysts began exhibiting the first symptoms of a chronic case of war flutters. That is, they quickly started suggesting that the invasion of Iraq was oversold, going badly, and perhaps entirely futile.

Similar war-flutter stories had also appeared in the early days of the war in Afghanistan, during the extended bombing of Serbia, and in the opening weeks of the first Persian Gulf War. Many of these stories were ultimately misleading, to put it mildly, and it may be tempting to dismiss the current round of critical and negative coverage as both politically ill intentioned and militarily ill informed.

Some negative analyses of the Iraq war may turn out to fit those descriptions, but there are critical stories (about battlefield surprises, for example) that have been supported by front-line commanders, and others (that the war was based on "faulty assumptions)" that are coming from within the administration itself. Cautionary reports like these are, obviously, entirely legitimate, and defenders of the war would be making a mistake by dismissing or reacting defensively to all press skepticism about Pentagon war claims.

The press' war skepticism may sometimes seem like an alarmist reflex (and in some cases that's what it is), but it's also an essential institutional duty. Far from impeding military success, the press' challenges and skepticism force the political and military establishments to justify the risks that they are asking Americans to undertake. It is true that a probing press can make political and military officials intensely unhappy, but that's been true since the first American war reporters wandered unwelcome into Ulysses S. Grant's command tent. (On hearing that some of the members of the press' so-called "Bohemian Brigade" had been killed, William Tecumseh Sherman famously replied that "we shall have news from hell before breakfast.")

The debates that emerge from negative press stories are not a distraction, they are a necessity. If you want to see a medium that is, by contrast, largely failing to do its journalistic work, then you should find a way to catch Al-Jazeera's coverage. Anyone in the Arab world depending on Al-Jazeera for an understanding of the conflict is not being well served. Its picture of the war involves a confident and courageous Iraqi leadership, an Iraqi military that has yet to suffer casualties or surrenders, an Iraqi populace enthusiastically supportive of the Ba'thist regime, an international conspiracy against Arabs that involves the U.N., a coalition force that is low on morale and faltering badly, a bloodthirsty enemy making no distinction between military and civilian targets, etc.

This is delusional coverage of the sort that has, in the past, seriously damaged the credibility of Arabic-language media among their own consumers.

However, Michael Young, Reason's Beirut-based contributing editor, argues on his Beirut Calling blog that "while Al-Jazeera does indeed often act like a propaganda outlet, it has been a liberating experience for the Arab publics, providing them with higher expectations from their own media."

"Already, Al-Jazeera has to look over its shoulder at Al-Arabiyya, a Dubai-based station, and at Al-Hayat-LBCI, a venture between Lebanese LBCI and the Saudi daily Al-Hayat.. In time," he writes, "Arab stations will understand that accuracy is a better magnet [for viewers], and the standards by which Al-Jazeera (and others) are judged inside the Middle East will be raised."

Young's prediction is surely right. When that happens, Arab audiences too can watch and read war-flutter pieces, and argue about the nature of war coverage.

Charles Paul Freund is a Reason senior editor.

Copyright 2003, Reason Online



>From John Michael Williams <>

Hi Benny.

In news from war-jittered New York,

  "Williamsburg Bridge Reopens After Police Investigation

(New York-WABC, March 28, 2003) - The Williamsburg Bridge has reopened after
authorities shut it down when three drunk men were caught wandering around on the span."

I can see it now: The Homeland Security Department announces success in its campaign against "Weapons of Mass Intoxication".
                     John Michael Williams


>From ITAR-TASS, 31 March 2003

By Dmitry Zlodorev

MOSCOW, March 31 (Itar-Tass) -- The massive week-long air strikes on Iraq could trigger a wave of earthquakes in the region, Russian seismologists told Itar-Tass.

They did nit rule out that the tremors registered in Iran last night could be caused by bombing in neighboring Iraq.

The scientists said earthquakes in Daghestan, Russia's Caucasus republic, were not excluded shortly.

"Bombing can not only accelerate earthquakes in places where there are ready centers and a marked increase in the seismic activity is seen," the chief of the Russian Seismology Committee, Alexei Nikolayev, told Itar-Tass on Monday.

"As was the case with the seismic situation after operation Desert Storm in 1991 and after bombing in Yugoslavia in 1999, it can be said that earthquakes begin 2-4 weeks after the activation of air raids using powerful bombs. Tremors can be felt at a distance up to 1,500 kilometers from an area of bombing," Nikolayev said.

Copyright 2003, ITAR-TASS 

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