With all of the bombing, shooting, and general chaos in Iraq, the health of the natural environment is an easy thing to overlook. Unfortunately, Iraq’s lakes, land, and sky are also suffering from warfare.

The Inter Press Service News Agency reported yesterday that there are a variety of environmental problems that continue to plague the country as a result of the fighting: 

"Industrial waste, hospital waste, fertiliser run-off from farming, as well as oil spills plague the two rivers that define the Mesopotamia region and which provide much of the irrigation and drinking water."

There are also reports that industries were bombed and are now toxic sites and oil drums were burned and filled the air with contaminants. 

The Iraqi Ministry of Environment worked with the United Nations Environment Programme to identify particularly polluted places, which they documented in reports in 2003 and 2005, but lack of funding, equipment, people (oh, and continued fighting) limited the remediation that could be done.

Despite the problems, some ecosystems are improving: 

"The highlight is the re-flooding of the Mesopotamian marshlands. Saddam Hussein's government drained the marshes in the 1980s, destroying up to 90 percent of that 9,000-square-kilometre wetland ecosystem.

In 2003, a re-flooding programme sponsored by Canada, Italy and conservation groups began bringing approximately 25 and 35 percent of the marshes back, along with many birds and other wildlife."

More Iraqis also have access to clean drinking water, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, but U.S. efforts to reconstruct infrastructure will stop within the next 18 months, according to the article.

We understand that with all that’s going on in Iraq, improving the health of the environment isn’t at the top of the list of priorities. Of course, other countries (like, um, ours) that aren’t war-torn don’t always do the best job of prioritizing environmental health, either.

Story by Susan Cosier. This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2007. This story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007.