Two decades of warfare in Afghanistan have degraded the environment to the extent [that] it now presents a major stumbling block for the country's reconstruction efforts.
Source: UNEP Post-Conflict Environment Assessment
The destructive impact of conflict on the physical environment threatens the existence of rare species of plants and animals, the livelihood of those who depend on the land, the economic reconstruction and recovery of the country once peace has been achieved and the health of civilians.
- 50% of the municipal wells in the Gaza Strip do not meet the World Health Organization’s criteria for potable water
The ecological consequences of war are pervasive, and include oil and chemical leaks caused by bombing; unregulated exploitation of natural resources by armed forces and rebel groups; waste of land and danger to lives caused by landmines and other unexploded ordnance; and the strain on water sources, biodiversity and ecosystems due to mass population movements. New technologies and weapons, such as depleted uranium, may pose threats to the environment that are still undetermined.
- In Chechnya, there is widespread concern over chemical and radioactive pollution as a result of the bombing of chemical laboratories. According to the records of Chechen doctors, there is an increased incidence of genetic abnormalities in babies and unexplained illnesses among children
Environmental destruction is often a deliberate war aim, intended as a weapon to debilitate economies, weaken civilian resistance and put increased pressure on government forces to capitulate. For example, during the 1999 conflict in Kosovo, armed forces systematically destroyed the clean water supplies and waste systems of towns and villages
Conflict also weakens the political and social norms and institutions which are responsible for environmental governance, making cooperative and consultative decisions about environmental protection and sustainability virtually impossible. The results for the environment are devastating: inadequate and contaminated water supplies, the destruction of vital cropland, deforestation, erosion, desertification, depletion of natural resources and air and marine pollution.
- In July 2006, the bombing of the Jiyyeh power station in Lebanon caused an estimated 20-30,000 tonnes of oil to cover 80km of the marine coast
There have been calls among the international community for conflict to be governed by environmental rules similar to those that regulate war’s impact on civilians and prisoners of war. UN Resolution 56/4 of November 2001 calls on all states to recognize that the ‘damage done to the environment in times of armed conflict impairs ecosystems and natural resources long beyond the period of conflict, and often extends beyond the limits of national territories and the present generation.’
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Post-Conflict Branch has taken the lead in assessing and reversing the impact of conflict on the natural and built environments. The mission of the UNEP Post-Conflict Branch is to conduct environmental assessments, build institutions for environmental governance, strengthen environmental law and policy, strengthen international and regional environmental cooperation, support environmental information management, and integrate environmental considerations into reconstruction efforts in post-conflict zones.
Currently operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia, Sudan, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Somalia, the geographic scope of the Assessment Team and the scale of its findings indicate both the global nature of environmental destruction due to conflict, and the urgent need to address this problem and guard against future ecological devastation.
Want to Learn More?
1. UNEP Post-Conflict Assessment Unit
2. World Resource Institute: Armed Conflict, Refugees, and the Environment
3. BBC News: War ‘has ruined Afghan environment’
4. BBC News: Environmental ‘crisis’ in Lebanon
5. BBC News: Chechnya habitat ‘ravaged by war’
6. UN Resolution 56/4