A senior official with the United Nations has likened the confusion over emissions from hundreds of oil wells in Kuwait to the situation in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

"We have an environmental situation here that is every bit as extensive and could have considerable impact on the countries of the region," Michael Gwynne, director of the U.N. Global Environmental Monitoring Systems, said Thursday.Gwynne said the Soviet government was paralyzed by Chernobyl and was "unable to get its act together and decide what to do."

The Nairobi-based environmentalist said Kuwait has been caught in much the same "monstrous, extremely unusual situation." This is not because Kuwait does not know what to do, he said, but because it does not have the resources to deal with problems posed by the fires.