Iraqi minister admits links between oil industry, cancer

Iraqi minister admits links between oil industry, cancer
Iraqi fishermen row their boat across flare stacks burning at the Nahr Bin Omar field, north of the port of Basra. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 October 2022

Iraqi minister admits links between oil industry, cancer

Iraqi minister admits links between oil industry, cancer
  • Admission follows BBC probe into gas flaring near Basra amid rising cases of leukaemia

LONDON: Pollution caused by oil production in Iraq is the leading cause of increased rates of cancer in parts of the country, its environment minister has acknowledged.

Jassem Al-Falahi made the admission following a BBC Arabic investigation into gas flaring near the city of Basra, which has seen an increase in cases of leukaemia in communities nearest the region’s oil fields. 

The revelation comes despite a ban on Iraqi government employees discussing health concerns linked to the oil industry issued by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

Al-Falahi said the Ministry of Oil banned Ministry of Environment employees from monitoring pollution levels at the Rumaila oil field — the largest in the country, and where the most waste gas is flared.

He added, though, that relations and communication between the two ministries was improving, and that they would work together to bring legal action and financial penalties against companies complicit in causing environmental damage in Iraq.

However, BBC Arabic spoke to numerous families around Rumaila who said they had received no compensation from oil companies or assistance from the government.

One leukaemia survivor from the area, 19-year-old Ali Hussein Julood, told BBC Arabic: “Here in Rumaila, nobody speaks out. They say they’re scared to speak in case they get removed.”

As part of its investigation, a BBC team, which was also denied access to monitor at the government-owned Rumaila oil field, carried out tests in communities in close proximity, and found high levels of a number of cancer-linked chemicals.

Gas flaring involves the burning of waste gases released during the oil drilling process, and releases substances such as benzene, carbon dioxide and methane — all of which are linked to cancer — into the atmosphere.

Earlier this year, Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail denied a link between flaring and cancer rates in a conversation with BBC Arabic.