United Nations Observes International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed ConflictNovember 6, 2008 By Rachel Weisshaar
Each November 6, the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict passes by, largely unnoticed. But as the UN General Assembly noted in 2001 when it gave the day official status, “damage to the environment in times of armed conflict”—including poisoning of water supplies and agricultural land; habitat and crop destruction; and damage resulting from the use of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons—“impairs ecosystems and natural resources long beyond beyond the period of conflict, and often extends beyond the limits of national territories and the present generation.”
In a written statement issued today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon points out that although natural resources are often exploited during war, they are also essential to establishing peace:
The environment and natural resources are crucial in consolidating peace within and between war-torn societies. Several countries in the Great Lakes Region of Africa established trans-boundary cooperation to manage their shared natural resources. Lasting peace in Darfur will depend in part on resolving the underlying competition for water and fertile land. And there can be no durable peace in Afghanistan if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystems are destroyed.As the Development Gateway Foundation’s Environment and Development Community emphasizes, “[e]nvironmental security, both for reducing the threats of war, and in successfully rehabilitating a country following conflict, must no longer be viewed as a luxury but needs to be seen as a fundamental part of a long lasting peace policy.”
Some of the United Nations’ most important contributions to illuminating the links between conflict and environmental degradation are the excellent post-conflict environmental assessments that the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Disasters and Conflicts Programme has carried out in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Sudan, among other countries. UNEP is currently preparing to conduct an assessment of Rwanda’s environment.
Photo: A Kuwaiti oil field set afire by retreating Iraqi troops burns in the distance beyond an abandoned Iraqi tank following Operation Desert Storm. Courtesy of Flickr user Leitmotiv.