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Oil goes on killing in Europe! Will an Iraq war wreck the environment?

9,366 oiled birds recovered from the Belgian, Dutch & French coasts after the Tricolor oil spill…

Cambridge, UK, 5th February 2003 -- A total of 9,366 oiled birds of at least 34 different species have been recovered from the Belgian, Dutch and French coasts between Dunkirk and The Hague following the Tricolor oil spill, BirdLife International said today. A total of 5,412 oiled seabirds of at least 27 species have been recovered from the Belgian coast since 170 tonnes of fuel oil leaked from the Tricolor on 24th January. A total of 2,468 of the birds recovered were dead, mostly Guillemots and Razorbills, according to BirdLife Belgium.A total of 1,954 oiled birds, mostly Guillemots, have reportedly been recovered from the Dutch coast, according to Vogelbescherming Nederlands (VBN - BirdLife in the Netherlands). In addition to the 27 affected species identified in Belgium, a further seven species have been identified in the Netherlands: Long-tailed Duck, Wigeon, Scaup, Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Black Swan and Grey Plover.A total of 2,000 oiled birds have reportedly been recovered from the northern French coast, according to the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO - BirdLife in France).

For further information please contact Michael Szabo at BirdLife International on (+44) 01223 277318 or (+44) 07779 018 332 (mobile).Threats to the environment posed by war in IraqCambridge, UK, Sunday 16 February 2003 -- BirdLife International today identified the main threats to the environment posed by a war in Iraq in a dossier of information, maps and photographs it has sent to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and USA) and the Government of Iraq. The dossier highlights threats to local people and key natural sites critical for globally threatened and endemic biodiversity in Iraq and the endangered Mesopotamian wetlands and is also posted on the internet.Based on the unprecedented environmental damage caused by the 1990-1991 Gulf War and available data on the environmental effects of recent conflicts in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, BirdLife has 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 (ie, 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 exacerbated 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. 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, said Dr Michael Rands, Director and Chief Executive of BirdLife International.Iraq has a number of internationally important natural areas, in particular 42 sites that are Important Bird Areas (IBAs). 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 (RSPB - BirdLife in the UK) sent three teams of scientists to the Gulf region to collaborate with the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (BirdLife in Saudi Arabia) to assess the environmental impacts of the war and resulting oil pollution. The results were published in the Journal of the Ornithological Society of the Middle East.These and other data show that the 1990-1991 Gulf War resulted in by far the largest marine oil spills in history with 6-8 million barrels of crude oil spilled, severely polluting 560km of coast, totally obliterating intertidal ecosystems and resulting in large-scale oil slicks that severely damaged the northern Arabian Gulf. Extensive mechanical damage by the manoeuvring armies also harmed the fragile desert crust and its ecosystem.Other oil spills occurred at Basrah refinery at the mouth of the Shatt Al-Arab, from refineries on the coast of Kuwait, and from the storage depot at Al-Khafji just south of the Kuwait-Saudi Arabian border. BirdLife International therefore cautions that oil spills of the same scale or worse could occur if there is a new war. Many of the natural habitats and sites impacted in the 1990-1991 Gulf War will be at risk again in a new war. Recently the US administration stated it does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in Iraq. The Iraqi Government may itself feel compelled to use weapons of mass destruction - if it still possesses any - as a last resort if faced with the prospect of defeat.A new war could result in physical destruction of natural areas and wildlife in Iraq and the northern Arabian Gulf. The main habitats in Iraq are: Wetlands, (<5%) Coastal, (<5%) Desert, (<80% of land) Steppe (<15% of land) and Forest and high mountain scrub (<5% of land). Iraq contains 42 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and the Mesopotamian marshes Endemic Bird Area (EBA). Sixteen 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) and five endemic or near-endemic marshland sub-species (Little Grebe, African Darter, Black Francolin, White-eared Bulbul, Hooded Crow).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 15,000km2 Mesopotamian marshlands formed one of the most extensive wetland ecosystems in western Eurasia. It comprised a complex of interconnected freshwater lakes, marshes and inundated floodplains following the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, extending from Baghdad in the north to Basra in the south. Approximately 50km2 may remain. These remnants would have the potential to help restore the marshlands.The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report The Mesopotamian Marshlands shows that destruction of the marshes in the 1990s had a devastating effect on wildlife and people, with significant implications to 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. A sub-species of Otter and the Bandicoot Rat are also believed to have become extinct.The impact of this destruction has also 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 also important spawning grounds for a multi-million dollar shrimp fishery in the Arabian Gulf and also provided 60% of fish eaten in Iraq. Most of Iraq`s rice, sugarcane and Water Buffalo used to be reared in the marshlands.They were also heavily degraded by the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Much of the fighting 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.Art specialists concerned about potential threats to the thousands of archaeological sites scattered throughout Iraq are supplying maps and information to the US Defense Department as part of an initiative co-ordinated by Arthur Houghton, a Middle East specialist and former Antiquities Curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in an attempt to protect Iraq`s cultural heritage following initial disregard for archaeological sites during the first Gulf War http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=10250In the dossier BirdLife International also urges potential combatants in a war not to deliberately target or damage globally important natural habitats and biodiversity which, like Iraq`s cultural heritage, have a unique and irreplaceable value for humanity. For further information about the dossier please contact Communications Manager Michael Szabo at BirdLife International on (+44) 01223 277318 or (+44) 07779 018 332 (mobile).

4th July 2014