In the aftermath of the 1991 war, oil up to 8 inches deep flowed from pipes that had been cut near the Persian Gulf, threatening its sea turtles, dolphins, whales and birds.
Shorebirds were dying by the hundreds of thousands as they tried to cleanse themselves of the oil coating their feathers and ended up ingesting it, Bossart said.
The oil fires caused thick clouds of smoke that blocked out the sun for miles. The smoke was so thick, Bossart said, the ground temperatures that normally would have been more than 100 degrees were only in the 80s.
When Iraqi soldiers cut underwater oil pipelines, at least 10 million gallons of crude spilled into the sea.
"The very first thing we saw with the oil spill was the affects of the oil on seabirds," he said.
In the clean-up, Bossart worked with about 10 other scientists from throughout the United States in a program sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
He stayed in the gulf region for two weeks to clean birds with dishwashing detergent and to teach volunteers from neighboring countries the correct way to hold the birds and remove the oil. Many of the volunteers were badly cut by the birds' sharp beaks, he said.
The scientists also tried to come up with ways to save other animals from harm -- especially the gulf's nearly 7,000 manatee-related mammals known as dugongs. Like the manatee, dugongs feed on sea grasses that could have been covered by the oil spill.
One idea was to move all the animals from the Persian Gulf over Saudi Arabia to the Red Sea, but Bossart said that would have been logistically and financially impossible.
Such extreme steps turned out to be unnecessary when strong winds blew the oil toward a causeway, which trapped the spill before it covered too much of the sea grasses, Bossart said.
He said the scientists who organized the last trip have begun communicating with each other to determine if the new war will make a second trip to the gulf necessary.
"I truly hope that that never happens again. It was just a devastating tragedy to not only the environment but also to human life," he said. "But if it did, I'd be very anxious to go over again and help." _____________________________________________________________________________________
International Herald Tribune
The UN stands ready to help
Shashi Tharoor IHT
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
A humanitarian challenge
NEW YORK My thoughts today," said Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, as news came in of the start of the war in Iraq, "are with the Iraqi people, who face yet another ordeal." These were not just the pious sentiments expected of any UN secretary-general at a time of conflict. Instead, the organization that many journalists describe as having been sidelined during the war finds itself at the center of what could yet prove to be a considerable humanitarian challenge.
Those whose view of the UN has been shaped entirely by their attitude to the debates in the Security Council over whether or not to authorize military action tend to overlook the fact that the world body is inevitably involved in coping with the consequences of such action.
Wars result in death, destruction, despair and displacement. Since the prospect of conflict first arose, the United Nations and its humanitarian agencies - notably the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program, Unicef and the World Health Organization - have been working around the clock to be prepared for a catastrophe, one we still hope will not occur.