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Kuwait, Land and Resources

barren soil, petroleum consumption, Persian Gulf War, environmental modification, desertification

Kuwait is one of the world’s smallest countries, occupying 17,818 sq km (6,880 sq mi). The greatest distance from north to south is 200 km (120 mi) and from east to west 170 km (110 mi). The terrain consists of flat desert with some small rolling hills. Kuwait also includes several offshore islands, the largest of which is Bubiyan, near the Iraqi border. The only island with a significant population is Faylakah, although much of the population has not returned since the end of the Persian Gulf War (1991). Kuwait has no lakes and rivers and few sources of fresh water. Drinking water is available only from underground aquifers and through desalination (removal of salt) of seawater. The climate is extremely hot in the summer, with temperatures routinely surpassing 45°C (113°F). The average temperature in January, the coldest month, is 13.5°C (56°F). Annual rainfall is typically less than 127 mm (5 in) per year, and almost all of it falls in the cooler winter.

Kuwait’s only significant natural resource is petroleum, the country’s main economic product. The dry climate and barren soil have historically made farming nearly impossible, but in recent years desalination has allowed limited farming. Without the economic resources available from oil, the Kuwaiti environment would be too harsh to support a substantial population.

As a result of the Persian Gulf War, Kuwait is an ecological disaster area, suffering serious degradation of its air, marine resources, and soil. During the war, huge lakes of spilled oil fouled desert sands, and millions of liters of oil flowed into the Persian Gulf, threatening wildlife and fisheries. Oil wells that were set ablaze created soot that covers the countryside. Some of the environmental damage may be irreparable.

Air pollution is of particular environmental concern. Kuwait derives 100 percent (1998) of its electricity from power plants that burn fossil fuels. The country has one of the world’s highest per capita rates of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes, at 31.53 metric tons (1995), as well as of petroleum consumption per capita, at 31.5 barrels per year (1998).

The government has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to climate change, desertification, environmental modification, hazardous wastes, and ozone layer protection.

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