Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Frank Quimby, (202) 208-7291
Oct. 7, 2004
Keith Eastin, (713) 410-2574
Secretary Norton, Iraqi Environment Minister Discuss Cooperative Efforts

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Iraq's Minister of the Environment Dr. Mishkat Al Moumin today discussed ways the Interior Department could help the new Government of Iraq to address the environmental challenges facing the nation.

"We look forward to providing technical and training assistance to Dr. Al Moumin's Ministry as it works with the United Nations, international donor groups and the U.S. Government to build the capacity of the new Government of Iraq to manage its environment and natural resources," Norton said. "Minister Al Moumin is a realist who spoke with candor about the wide range of pressing environmental issues that must be addressed if the Iraqi people are to enjoy a stable, healthy, and prosperous future."

Minister Al Moumin, a former law professor and human rights advocate who survived an August terrorist car bombing in Baghdad, believes the Iraqi people have a fundamental human right to live in a clean and healthy environment. "I also believe strongly that environmental problems are international problems and that is why I am trying to gain international support," she said. "I believe the international community has an obligation to help the Iraqi people who have suffered for decades under the former regime."

Minister Al Moumin, 31, has been in Washington this week, meeting with State Department and other federal agencies to discuss the environmental challenges facing Iraq and the goals of her ministry. Since assuming office in June, Minister Al Moumin has been meeting with United Nations Environment Programme officials and international donor groups to develop environmental initiatives.

Al Moumin said the major environmental issues on which her Ministry will focus are water resources and water quality-providing clean potable water to the people of Iraq; air quality; biodiversity; chemical pollution; radiation; and restructuring of Iraq's legal system in the environmental arena.

The Minister also said an important overall goal for her environmental program is to develop environmental awareness among her people. "Environmental education and awareness is a great challenge and can help us to accomplish the major projects needed to improve our people's everyday lives."

In terms of cooperative efforts that federal agencies might provide the Ministry, the Department of State has indicated that it would like to see a focus on capacity building, training, and an improved crisis management capacity. The State Department will take part in an international donor's conference in Venice, Italy, on Oct. 24 and 25 to solicit support for the Ministry.

Al Moumin's discussion with Norton focused on cooperative efforts for training and technical help. Interior already is helping in this area in several ways and Norton said she wanted to expand the Department's assistance in appropriate areas. Interior currently has sent a senior advisor to work with Al Moumin and her Ministry in Baghdad and is detailing a water policy advisor to Iraq's Ministry of Water.

The U.S. Geological Survey has been providing Iraq technical assistance in managing water resources, including developing a general water budget for the country, upgrading Iraq's stream gauging capabilities, preparing a time sequence of satellite images showing the change in the Iraqi marshlands over time, and working with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Army Corp of Engineers to develop plans for reconstructing Iraqi marshlands.

The Japanese Government has pledged $11 million for initial work on the United Nations' project to restore the marshlands, Al Moumin said. The marshes were drained by the former regime to punish the Marsh Arabs, displacing more than 500,000 people, destroying their way of life, and severely damaged wetlands that also are important cultural and wildlife resources for the nation.

Norton noted that Interior also had technical capabilities in many other areas that could support the institutional capacity-building for the Ministry of Environment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, has extensive experience and expertise in wildlife monitoring, management, and recovery programs.


Interior Secretary Gale Norton, right, and Iraq's Minister of the Environment, Dr. Mishkat Al Moumin, discuss Iraq's environmental challenges and needs at a news conference today in Washington, D.C. Minister Al Moumin is visiting Washington this week to meet with State Department, Interior and other federal agency officials about possible technical and training assistance to help build Iraq's capacity to address the environmental challenges facing the nation. Interior photo by Tami Heilemann, NBC.






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