I Went on Holiday in a Burning Kuwaiti Oil Field
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August the 2nd, 1990, he set in motion a political conflict that resulted in a devastating man-made environmental catastrophe. He had sworn that if he had to be "evicted from Kuwait by force, then Kuwait will be burned," and it turned out he wasn't just joking around or in one of his "funny moods".
And so he stayed true to his word and he burned it. Upon evacuation, Iraqi troops worked their way through Kuwait's oil fields and set fire to nearly 700 oil wells. The fires started in January 1991 and the last of them was extinguished ten months later. All in all, they consumed an estimated six million barrels (950,000 m3) of oil daily.
Due to the number of wells burning it was impossible for one or a few teams of firefighters to extinguish them in the necessary time to overt a global catastrophe. So, the Kuwaiti government called out for international aid. About 50 countries from across the globe responded to the call, including Britain, whose team I was a part of.
We arrived on February 28th, 1991 and I can still recall the apocalyptic scene that greeted me outside my airplane window as we touched down in Kuwait. The sky was so black it looked like it turned the middle of the afternoon into night and as we flew below the cloud level, the only thing you could see were 700 oil wells, all burning at the same time.
We were sent to work in Northern oil fields and the 50km drive from the airport to the camp was something I will never forget. As we passed Kuwait City, the images of devastation and human carnage were horrifying. Vehicles and bodies were strewn everywhere, hanging out of vehicles, on the roadside. Official figures count Kuwait's losses at around 10,000, but unofficially the numbers seems closer to 100,000.
The camp where we stayed was situated just between the burning wells, so I had to endure plenty of sleepless nights as the fires roared and lit the sky, and the desert dropped to minus temperatures at night. As if that wasn't enough, the camp was also surrounded by minefields where millions of land mines had been left to make the fire-fighting a harder task. The empty burnt out tanks, and ordnance left by the fleeing troops littered the desert like beer bottles after a weekend music festival. When driving I would not dare leave the road, even though many did. And many died.
By November all the fires were eventually out and all the fire-fighting teams dwindled back to their homelands, richer for the experience in more ways than one.
These pictures are from my first week there. Unfortunately, my first five films were confiscated by the US secret service after I passed them to a local Kuwaiti developer, who then reported me to the CIA. This is a wild guess, but my instincts tell me that this may have had something to do with the atrocities and gross infringement of human rights that were captured on these films.
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