By Owen Pinnell
Far removed from the world leaders making climate pledges at COP, are people like Ali Hussein Julood, a young leukaemia survivor living on an Iraqi oil field co-managed by BP. When the BBC discovered BP was not declaring the field’s gas flaring, Ali helped us to reveal the truth about the poisonous air the local community has to breathe.
I first saw videos shared on Twitter of burning skies and clouds of black smoke over people’s houses in Iraq’s oil fields in 2019, and learned that this was a common procedure known as gas flaring – burning off the toxic excess gas that is a by-product of oil drilling.
We discovered through satellite data that Rumaila in Basra, southern Iraq, is the world’s worst offender for gas flaring. Gas flaring is not only a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, it is also known to emit benzene – which heightens the risk of cancer, particularly childhood leukaemia. Dozens of people we spoke to living in five different communities near oil fields like Rumaila, told the same story – that they had a close relative or a friend who was suffering from cancer, often leukaemia.
One of those was Ali, then 18 years old, whose father had sold everything in his house to raise money for his son’s cancer treatment in Turkey….