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Armed conflict

Along with natural disasters, the region has been plagued with wars. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the region has witnessed the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the 1967 Six-Day war, the 1973 October war and the Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon in 1982. In the 1980s and 1990s, the first and second Gulf wars caused major environmental problems. Environmental pollution was a major impact. Fires were set deliberately in forests, and water resources were polluted and/or destroyed. Artillery fire destroyed land resources. Marine resources were polluted as well as the atmosphere from oil well fires and soils were contaminated by oil spills during the second Gulf War.

Wars create refugees. In the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, more than 750 000 Palestinians were left landless and homeless. A second wave of approximately 350 000 Palestinians and more than 150 000 Syrians became refugees at the end of the Six- Day War. Towns and villages in Palestine and Golan Heights were depopulated and destroyed. Today, there are about 3.8 million refugees in 59 camps registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA 2002). Palestinian refugees are scattered in a number of countries, including Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Most live in poor conditions, putting additional stress on already limited natural resources.

Kuwait Bay: a soup for disaster

Increases in nutrient concentrations in the Gulf have often been concentrated in the Kuwait Bay and the area around the outfall of the Shatt-Al-Arab river, and they have been cited as the cause of a number of eutrophication incidents. A major red tide and an associated fish kill occurred in 1999. The main conclusion of that incident was that unless pollution levels were reduced drastically, eutrophication conditions would worsen, causing more fish kills.

The 1999 event was one of a series. In 1986, tonnes of fish as well as other marine animals, including 527 dolphins, 7 dugongs, 58 turtles and more than 10 000 cuttle fish, had been found dead along the shores of the Gulf. During 1990 and 1991, 137 sea turtles were found dead along the Omani coast. In 1993, a fish kill was observed two months after the sinking of a Russian merchant vessel carrying chemicals. Similar phenomena were reported along the coasts of Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates between 1993 and 1998.

Kuwait Bay has experienced a series of changes over the years, including the release of both treated and untreated sewage and oils and untreated wastes from sources connected directly to the storm water network. Two commercial ports and several marinas, three power stations, a commercial fish farm in the middle of the bay, and an artificial river in Iraq into which sewage and agriculture run-off from the newly drained marshes are released, exert pressure on the bay.

Another source of nutrients is wind-blown soil carried by the predominant northwesterly winds, which has increased over the past few years due to the shrinking marshlands in Iraq. The linkage between the marshes and the Gulf through the Shatt Al-Arab and its tributaries has allowed fish to migrate. In August-September 2001, more than 3 000 tonnes of fish, predominantly mullet, died. The pathogen identified, Streptococcus iniae, could have originated from sewage or contaminated fish-feed. The same species was reported in Bahrain in 1999 when there was massive mortality in rabbitfish populations. The combined effects of elimination of the Iraqi marshes as a natural wastewater treatment system and the continued input of organic matter from anthropogenic activities coupled with arid conditions have created a recipe for disaster, transforming the Gulf into a soup ready to provide a perfect media for bacterial and algal blooms.

Source: Cynthia and others 2001