Basra, Feb 26, (VOI) – During a Basra-based conference on February 25, 2008 on cancer in southern Iraq, experts surmised that radioactive pollution, particularly in Basra, that was caused by the latest wars, engenders an increase in cancer cases there.
Director of Basra Health Awareness Department, Dr. Qusay Abdul-Lateef, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI), “Many physicians, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and media staff attended the conference that included lectures by cancer experts.”
The cancer related conference, which was supervised by Basra Health Management, coincided with the occasion of the annual World Cancer Day sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO – UN) that immensely echoes cancer as the world’s greatest health problem. WHO perceives that protective measures make it possible to eliminate 40% of cancer cases. According to statistics released by the health body, 6.7 million people died from cancer in 2005, which is expected to be the cause of death of 84 million others in the period 2005-2015.
Jawad Al-Ali, a dermatologist and oncologist who attended the conference, said to VOI, “There are many reasons that add to the spread of the disease in Basra, and in southern Iraq in general.”
“We can blame no one here for this, because the essential impulse that causes a peak cancer is radioactive pollution,” Ali said, explaining, “there is an impression supported by evidence that in southern Iraq, particularly in Basra province, that a rapid increase in cancer cases is occurring.”
“Field surveys will be carried out in Basra in two weeks in an attempt to establish an accurate number of cancer cases here,” Al-Ali confirmed, proceeding “A notable increase in cancer cases has been seen since 1994 due to the 1991 Gulf War, which is normal given its incubation period of 3-4 years.”
Dr. Omran Sokar, a professor of epidemic and health care at Basra University, told VOI: “Currently, registered ratio of cancer cases in Basra is 70 per 100,000 persons a year, compared to 40 in 1995. We believe that this number does not even mirror the actual situation on the ground.”
“Compared with 2005, cancer cases increased by 50%-100% in Basra. It is difficult to attribute the increase to certain factors. It might be radioactive pollution, chemical pollution, or personal attitudes and habits, such as smoking.”
Some Iraqi military sources assert that during the wars of 1991 and 2003, coalition forces shelled at least 300 tons of depleted uranium ammunitions on Iraq. British military forces alone dropped around 100 tons of them on Basra.
Khajak Wartanian, an environment pollution researcher, said, “Radioactive pollution is a prime factor in the increase in cancer cases in Basra. The problem started in 1991 when coalition forces used depleted uranium ammunitions to attack Iraqi armed forces in their Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait.”
“Being a chemical element, Uranium is very dangerous to human life because its radioactive effect may last for four to five billion years and it has the ability to dissolve and react with other materials to produce new compositions that may endanger human life through breathing or physical contact.”
“During Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL) in 2003, coalition forces used depleted uranium ammunitions against Iraqi military bases in Basra city,” Wartanian told VOI. “Now, we have spots in Basra province close to residential places and neighborhoods polluted with depleted uranium. Until 2004, we were able to detect 100 radioactive sites in Basra.”
In 2004, “An order was issued that allowed the sale of scrap steel materials that had been abandoned on the battlefields,” Wartanian explained to VOI, adding, “traders and individuals started collecting devastated military vehicles, polluted with depleted uranium, from Basra yards, especially in Al-Sheayba., where cancer cases have been most notable.”
“Transportation of those scrap steel materials increased the number of spots polluted with depleted uranium,” he noted, explaining that those materials have been recycled for future use.
Commenting on the most affected areas in Basra, Wartanian told VOI, “According to our research, the majority of cancer patients in Basra live close to polluted areas, particularly in the suburbs of Al-Sheayba, Al-Zubair, Abul-Khaseeb, Qorna, and popular neighborhoods in the city.”
“These places were either attacked with depleted uranium ammunitions or were used as storage yards for devastated military vehicles. People don’t understand the threat these equipments and vehicles pose to their lives.”
Concerning the measures that have to be taken to subdue the effect of the polluted sites, Wartanian said: “We should get rid of all polluted materials, or at least transfer them outside Basra. At the beginning, we need to specify a yard to collect all polluted materials with depleted uranium.”
“This yard should be far from residential places, water sources, industrial facilities, and roads. There is a suggestion to use a location called ‘Tanks Cemetery,’ 200 km west of Basra, for this purpose,” Wartanian explained.
“We should then isolate all radioactive sites in Basra and launch a campaign to increase public awareness about the dangers arising from those sites. We need a government decision in this respect to enable us to act accordingly.”