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The Harmful Environmental Impacts Of War

GENEVA, Switzerland

A new, jointly-produced report from a diverse group of organisations working on human rights, peacebuilding and environmental issues has been launched to demonstrate the breadth and complexity of conflict-linked environmental harm.

Case studies from Iraq, Syria, Colombia, Yemen, Ukraine, Laos DPR and Senegal direct attention to the environment in relation to armed conflict.

"Witnessing the Environmental Impacts of War" suggests that conflict creates governance gaps that have a direct and negative impact on both humanity and the environment. The group calls for “bold leadership, supported by science-based solutions” that will protect ecosystems and save lives.

The report was published 6 November, to mark the UN's International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, and is presented by Amnesty International, the Geneva Water Hub, Pax for Peace, Norwegian People’s Aid, the Environmental Law Institute and Global Green Growth Institute, and the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS), and Zoï Environment Network (Kyiv).

One of the studies in the report - "Mobilising Art for Water and Peace in the Senegal River" - was produced by the Geneva Water Hub, a collaborator with OOSKAnews in monthly news publication "The Water Diplomat".

The studies draw on satellite imagery, open source investigations, and official accounts. There is a specific focus on infrastructure, natural environment (such as forests), water resources, oil and munitions (unexploded ordnance) pollution. There are already some efforts to strengthen, implement and respect the laws protecting the environment, but more must be done and those responsible must be taken to account.

There is a need to assess environment risks, protect civilians from environmental harm and assist victims after conflict. Remediating damage is an underpinning to construction of sustainable peace.

The group acknowledges that states and global institutions are recognising the need for additional capacity to identify, act on and mitigate the conflict-induced environmental risks that can destabilise societies. Furthermore, humanitarian agencies are incorporating environmental issues in post-conflict efforts to reduce future harm.

Citing community engagement to protect water and build lasting and resilient peace, the group supports the use of new tools and technologies to monitor agricultural stress, deforestation and oil pollution. Based on this data, monitoring and identification of issues for post-conflict attention can be developed.

The report concludes with a stark warning. “Without a coherent international agenda on the Environment, Peace and Security, already fragile states will face a more uncertain future. Conflicts will continue to wreak unacceptable levels of harm, accelerating environmental degradation and undermining human development and ecosystems".

“And by failing to develop and apply the policies that would help centre the environment in conflict transformation, we make a return to violence more likely".

The authors encourage development of a new Environment, Peace and Security agenda and offer crucial components to encourage transformative policymaking.

These elements are:

  • --Recognition of the intrinsic relationship between the environment, peace and security, and the pivotal role that the environment plays throughout the cycle of conflict
  • Acknowledgement of the inextricable link between the protection of the environment and the protection of civilians.
  • Commitment to enhancing, adopting, implementing, and promoting compliance and accountability with the legal framework protecting the environment with respect to its relationship to armed conflicts.
  • Effective and sustained measures to include the environment in peace and security discourses, policymaking, peacebuilding, and recovery.
  • Support for the environmental data architecture necessary to inform effective decision making.
  • Engagement with local authorities, affected communities, local civil society groups and experts to strengthen an inclusive process for health and environmental risk assessments and remediation work in post-conflict settings.
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