Chemical weapons watchdog remembers 1915 chlorine gas attack
BRUSSELS (AP) — The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons marked the centennial of the first large-scale use of gas during World War I with a commemoration Tuesday to pay tribute to all victims of such arms over the past century.
Close to the fields where Germany first used chlorine gas in its April 22, 1915 attack, OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said that the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization could never be fully finished.
“Our success cannot only be measured in weapons destroyed. It must extend to preventing new weapons from being developed and from being built,” Uzumcu said.
During a ceremony in the town of Ypres, Uzumcu laid a wreath at the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing, and buglers played the “Last Post.” Some of the biggest battles of World War I were fought around Ypres.
The Allies and Germany used so many chemical shells during the 1914-1918 war that farmers are still ploughing them from old battlefields to this day.
The rival armies ultimately launched 146 gas attacks in Belgium alone, which covered only a small patch of the Western Front. The Germans used about 150 tons of gas in their first attack. Germany ultimately used 68,000 tons. The Allies used even more: 82,000 tons.
Chemical weapons killed nearly 100,000 and injured around 1 million more during the war.
Now, the challenge for the 2013 Nobel winners remains as daunting. The size of stockpiles may be similar but the effectiveness has increased greatly.
“In only 18 years, we have all seen the destruction of 87 percent of all declared chemical weapons or 63,000 metric tons out of 72,000 tons,” Uzumcu said.
“This comprises largely of component chemicals for mixing deadly nerve agents such as Sarin and it includes 98 percent of Syria’s total declared stockpile,” he said.
Even today, the organization monitors reports that chlorine gas has repeatedly been used in Syria’s civil war.
Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rcasert