Five Middle Eastern countries will soon get unprecedented payments to conduct studies of the environmental damage caused by the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi troops set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells, shrouding the region in smoke for months. The money is part of reparations being drawn from the Iraq "oil for food" fund run by the United Nations (U.N.).
On 21 June, the U.N. Compensation Commission (UNCC) governing council approved distributing $243 million from the fund for environmental assessment and monitoring research, with the lion's share going to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and smaller amounts to Iran, Jordan, and Syria. The nations have UNCC approval for 107 studies, including surveying coastlines for spilled oil, studying smoke damage to archaeological sites, and following health effects in people who inhaled the smoke. Once the damage has been assessed, countries will file claims against Iraq for remediation and restoration projects.
Julia Klee of UNCC says, "as far as we're aware, this is the first time" a country has paid environmental damages after a war. The money should be disbursed within a month. "From a legal perspective, it's wonderful to have an international tribunal recognize that environmental damage is a significant component of armed conflict," says Carl Bruch of the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C.