Kuwait's 1991 environmental tragedy: Lessons learned

Ali Mohamed Al-Damkhi*, Sabah Ahmed Abdul-Wahab, Nabeel Mansour Al-Khulaifi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990 precipitated an ecological tragedy in the Arabian Gulf region. During the course of the invasion Kuwait suffered severe losses to both its oil industry and its ecological system. The scale of damage was enormous, ranging from destruction as a result of oil fires and spills to the economic deterioration of Kuwait's oil industry. The purpose of this paper is to focus on the lessons learned from Kuwait's oil well catastrophe in the hope of preventing or at least minimizing future such man-made disasters. Design/methodology/approach – The paper reviews and analyzes Kuwait's oil well tragedy in terms of its scope, logistical services provided to cope with the disaster, the techniques used in firefighting operations and related political issues. The paper also discusses the need to review existing environmental laws and the concept of environmental crime in light of this catastrophe. Findings – There are many important lessons that can be drawn from Kuwait's catastrophic disaster, the most important of which is to ensure that dictators in the future never believe they can destroy the environment without severe repercussions from the international community. Practical implications – The conflagrations in Kuwait demonstrate the dangerous consequences of large-scale modern combat in an environmentally fragile area. Not just Kuwait but all oil-producing nations, especially the Gulf countries, are vulnerable to this type of environmental and economic disaster. Originality/value – Kuwait's tragedy highlights the need for immediate consideration of possible similar disasters in the future and how the global community will deal with them. The high cost of environmental degradation only gets more expensive when left unattended. The price is paid not only in hard currency for firefighting but in damage to the public's health and in other environmental problems. This paper shows that sustainable development is impossible in the presence of wars and terrorist activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-248
Number of pages16
JournalDisaster Prevention and Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 19 2009


  • Environmental management
  • Kuwait
  • Oil industry
  • Sustainable development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Building and Construction


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