x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Kuwait plant dumps raw sewage

The government's only contingency plan for the breakdown of a sewage pumping station was to dump the raw sewage into the Gulf, a member of parliament said.

KUWAIT CITY // The government's only contingency plan for the breakdown of a sewage pumping station was to dump the raw sewage into the Gulf, a member of parliament said after meeting yesterday with ministers to discuss Kuwait's environmental crisis. "It is a big disaster, it's a huge disaster, and unfortunately it's something, apparently, they didn't take into consideration when they were building the plant - what would happen if something blocked," Rola Dashti said. The Mishref sewage station has been spewing raw sewage into the sea for the last five days after its 13 pumps broke down, leading to a ban on swimming and fishing in the area and causing a bad odour in many parts of the city. Local press reported that the ministry of public works has blamed the emergency on the contractor that built the station and claimed it has not officially taken control of the station since its completion in 2006. The meeting in the national assembly included the ministers of health and public works, the director general of the environment public authority (EPA) and several MPs, including representatives from parliament's environment affairs committee. On Saturday night, an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the matter announced the formation of a ministerial committee to try and prevent the problem from reoccurring. The minister of public works and minister of state for municipal affairs, Fadhel Safar, said after the meeting that an American team called in to work in the station has recommended the installation of more pumps. He said the government has taken steps to relieve pressure on Mishref by redirecting the sewage to another network with pumps and tankers. He said this will enable them to repair the damage. The sewage is normally pumped through Mishref station to a major station at Ardiya before going to Sulaibiya treatment plant where dangerous chemicals are removed from the water before it is pumped into the sea. Environmentalists have warned that the sewage could pollute a 20km stretch of coastline to the east of Kuwait City, threatening the area's marine life and nearby desalination plants. Sightings of dead birds and fish and an increase in the number of insects like mosquitoes have already been reported on Kuwait's beaches. The local press has speculated that reported cases of diarrhoea in children and respiratory illnesses are linked to the contamination of drinking water and gases emanating from the station. But Ms Dashti said: "We've been assured that the water supply is good, there's no problem with the water quality for the safety of humans." She said the EPA reassured the MPs that pollutants in the sea have stabilised and experts have been brought in from abroad to reduce the contaminants with "bacteria and chemicals". Ms Dashti said levels of hydrogen sulphate are "within an acceptable range", according to the EPA, but they had expressed concerns about ammonia and that is why they have been asking people not to swim in that area. The chairman of the Green Line environmental group, Khalid al Hajiri, said in a press release the prime minister should resign if he fails to satisfy the group's demands to "save the country ecologically". The group has started a campaign to force the prime minister to respond to the problem, which has deteriorated to the point that "the effects are visible on the community, particularly children". Mr al Hajiri said the prime minister ignored a letter from the group last year to address the problem at the sewage station. When asked about Green Line's statement, Mr Safar, the minister, said: "I am a member of many environmental organisations and I welcome contributions from anybody that will help solve this problem." He said the group has not taken enough samples from the sea to conduct a comprehensive study. Another MP, Hussein al Mutairi, defended the contractor in a statement. "The disaster was caused by negligent maintenance. According to information I received from news and from documents there was a delay in taking a decision to deal with the crisis. "The station was built to high international standards. The engineering office which built it has a good image and a lot of experience. The company has been working with the ministry for more than 35 years." jcalderwood@thenational.ae