The booming demand or oil and the rapid industrialization of the countries on the shoreline of the Persian Gulf are bringing chemical and therman pollution to the Gulf's Vice flawless waters, threatening equatic life, beaches and water supply, according to Kuwaiti government officials.
Acting Foreign Minister Abdel Aziz Hussein said last month that pollution of the gulf is this country's "most urgent problem." Kuwait has asked all his neighbors on the waterway to hold [WORD ILLEGIBLE] discussions on combatting it.
It unchecked, Hussein said, the pollution could be "disastrous for Kuwait," which has invested millions of dollars in a growing fish and shrimp industry and relies on the gulf for much of its drinking water, obtained through desalination.
Hussein said Kuwait believes that its concern is shared by the other litoral countries - Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirat's, Oman and Iran. All have agreed to joint discussions, he said.
Kuwaiti officials say the principal source of pollution is ballast discharge from tankers loading at oil terminals around the gulf. But the money from this oil has also fueled a spectacular surge of industrial development all along the shoreline, where refineries, smelters, petrochemical plants and other factories are proliferating and beginning to add their own discharges to the water.
Saudi Arabian newspapers reported last month that a committee headed by Russell Train, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, concluded after a survey that Saudi Arabia does not yet have a major pollution problem but will as its new industries begin operations.
"The gulf is like a lake," an official of the Kuwait Ministry of Planning said. "It doesn't clean itself," because its water are contained by the narrow Strait of Hormuz at the outlet to the open sea.
The result, he said, is that the industrial byproducts and hot water from factory cooling units that are being pumped into the gulf in increasing amounts are not flushed away. To stop this trend, he said, is "a matter of survival" for Kuwait.
Kuwait has been developing its own industrial complex at Shuaiba, on the coast south of Kuwait city, since 1964. It contains oil refineries, petrochemical and fertilizer plants, an oil shipment port, and factories producing cement, sulphur and polyethylene.
After years of study, Kuwait has set up an air and water pollution control center to monitor the discharges from these plants and develop controls that will be incorporated in factories now in the design stage.
Wafi Abdou, a Kuwaiti government information officer, said the control center runs hourly checks on industrial sewage to see if it is meeting government standards. "We have our own standards and controls, but we're the only ones in the Middle East doing it," he said.
Around Shuaiba, the air pollution problem appears to be every bit as acute as the water pollution problem, if not more so. The air is thick with urea powder, cement dust, various gases and the unmistakable smell of the refineries.
In the middle of the industrial area is a vast vacant space where until last year a residential village stood. Its occupants were moved out by the government because the air quality had gotten so bad that it was no longer safe for them to live there.