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Persian Gulf Turning Hot, Salty, Oily

By Sudeshna Sarkar

DOHA, Qatar, September 29, 1999 (ENS) - Shoals of fish are dying in the northern part of the Persian Gulf as the salt level soars and the water temperature rises to a blistering 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). A leading Arab environmental organisation warns that this is the result of the global warming compounded by indiscriminate dumping of waste water in the region by oil companies and unchecked oil seepage. fish

Minstrel Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus schotaf) Persian Gulf (Photos courtesy American School of Kuwait)

Dr. Abdul Rahman Al Awadi, executive secretary of the Regional Organisation for the Protection of the Marine Environment, was in Doha, the capital of Qatar, to attend a two-day environmental workshop hosted by his organisation and the Gulf Area Oil Companies Mutual Aid Organisation. The first fish carcasses, he says, were noticed about 11 days ago.

The off-shore oil rigs operating in the Gulf produce between 30,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil per day. Environmentalists have been warning that a large percentage of this has been spilling into the sea because of seepages in the sea bed, cracks in rigs, illegal discharges by oil companies and vessels and accidental spills.

pipeBroken oil pipes in shallow Gulf waters

In addition to the oil, salt-laden waste water from the oil production process is dumped into the Gulf greatly increasing the salinity of the water and posing a grave threat to marine life.

The latest industrial techniques go a long way to ensure that the waste handled in an environmentally responsible manner. But a large number of oil companies have still not implemented these technologies, preferring to take a shortcut to profit.

"The Gulf is pounded by all kinds of pollutants," says an angry Dr. Al Awadi. "The oil companies across the region have a great deal at stake as the industry will suffer ultimately. Our lives will become very difficult if we do not come together to solve this problem."

The Gulf is prone to contamination as its average depth is only 30 metres (97.5 feet). The recent construction of dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers means the source of fresh water has been reduced to a trickle. The average population of six Middle East Countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, rely heavily on the desalinated Gulf water for their drinking water supply.

bird Bird coated with oil from a Gulf spill

  Though the leading oil companies in the Gulf claim thay are following a "clean Gulf" policy and trying to produce "energy with responsibility," Dr. Al Awadi is critical of them, saying they treat their installations like "war secrets."

The Middle East is generally characterised by its reluctance to part with information. Censorship, both official and unofficial, is common in Qatar, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states.

In a bid to assess the level of pollution in the Persian Gulf and draw up a remediation policy, the Regional Organisation for the Protection of the Marine Environment recently sent a questionnaire to the oil companies operating in the region, requesting information about the location of their offshore platforms and other details. It drew a blank.

map Map of the Persian Gulf (Map courtesy CIA World Factbook)

  Dr. Al Awadi says it is pointless to withhold such information in this hi-tech era when satellites can provide accurate information globally. The attitude, he feels, needs to be changed since in another 50 years, oil will no longer remain the main source of energy.

Oil will be replaced by alternate resources, warns Dr. Al Awadi, and in the next millennium, the gift of wealth that the region enjoys thanks to oil, will also vanish. But the damage to the ecosystem will remain, along with its magnified consequences.