Effect of armed conflicts on the environment
Over time, human activity in the search to satisfy their primary daily needs has generated a breakdown in the environmental balance. Technology and the implementation of resources have led us to visualize first-hand all the impact generated, not only due to the depredation of everything that the planet offers us but also because a series of imbalances in temperatures and weather patterns have overflowed.
Added to this series of problems are war and armed conflicts. “For more than six decades, armed conflicts have occurred in more than two-thirds of the world's biodiversity hotspots, posing a critical threat to conservation efforts” (UNEP, 2018). All this, directly and indirectly, ends up generating an acceleration for environmental degradation.
Faced with this, various international environmental movements and organizations have tried to find solutions in favor of environmental sustainability; thus, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared November 6, 2001, as the International Day for the prevention of the exploitation of the environment in war and armed conflicts. Subsequently, on May 27, 2016, the same Environment Assembly adopted a resolution that recognized the role of healthy ecosystems and sustainably managed resources in reducing the risk of armed conflict.
Environmental impacts in armed conflicts
According to Conflict and Environmental Observatory (2020), environmental impacts were evidenced before, during, and after the armed conflict, which is mentioned below:
Before the armed conflict
The construction of military bases consumes resources such as water, green areas, and hydrocarbons. Likewise, military vehicles such as cars, boats, and planes consume hydrocarbons, which increases the generation of CO2. Military training creates emissions, disturbs landscapes, terrestrial and marine habitats, and creates chemical and noise pollution from the use of weapons, aircraft, and vehicles.
During the armed conflict
The use of explosive weapons in urban areas creates large amounts of debris, which can pollute the air and soil. The scorched earth technique includes the destruction of agricultural infrastructures such as canals, wells, and pumps and the burning of crops that provide food support. In various ecosystems, habitats and natural systems are destroyed, affecting the local flora and fauna and putting many species in danger of extinction. Environmental laws and regulations are ignored by the population and there is no environmental control. Management systems often fail during armed conflict, leading to increased rates of dumping and burning of solid waste, inefficient management, and less segregation of this solid waste.
After the armed conflict:
Human displacement is common in armed conflicts, in which there is a large environmental footprint due to refugee camps, which lack essential services such as water, sanitation, and waste management. Similarly, a large increase in deforestation rates has been shown in many countries emerging from armed conflict.
Examples of environmental impacts caused by wars and armed conflicts
As it has been stated, the consequences of the armed conflicts that threaten our society not only have humans and wildlife as victims but also the environment. Several case studies have been done, and given the current situation, it is pertinent to mention the Ukrainian case. Ukraine has a considerable number of industrial facilities -many of which are abandoned- which are quite harmful to the environment due to activities ranging from chemical production to metal smelting. (Denisov and Nikolaieva, 2020).
Although we haven't yet witnessed a significant environmental disaster since the fateful episode in Chernobyl, the truth is that, at the rate at which the Russian invasion is developing and taking into account the arsenal that operates within Ukrainian territory, there is a great risk to provoke (again) an event with equally or more disastrous consequences for our planet. In the case of the Donbas region, although many factories are no longer operating; the installations, as well as the materials that remain there, represent a great toxic danger for Europe (PAX for Peace, 2020).
“The problem is not only that war destroys the environment. The problem is also that the exploitation of natural resources triggers and fuels more conflicts” (Greenpeace, 2012).
We are facing a scenario where the environment is systematically destroyed by man before, during, and after an armed conflict. In our region, we have the Colombian case. Following the agreement between the FARC and the Santos Administration in 2016, a power vacuum is currently taking place in areas once controlled by the revolutionary guerrilla. With this, illegal mining activity, as well as coca cultivation (PAX for Peace, 2020) has increased deforestation in Colombia. As in other areas affected by the war, the lack of decentralized and efficient environmental policies has had negative consequences for the regions where these activities are carried out.
Without environmental governance that can carry out constant inspections and promote environmentally friendly projects, the outlook for 2030 is not very encouraging. For the Peace Agreements to be successful, the environmental processes that are affected by the conflicts and the legal and illegal economic activities that took place in the affected areas must also be considered. What can we do? Raise our voice so that the state powers take action before it is too late for the planet. At the international level, the United Nations has tried to reduce damage to the environment in conflict zones around the world; however, nations are still against the implementation of protection barriers. Today more than ever, the environmental problems that humanity is facing need to be considered within the resolution of conflicts and understand that not only sides in a conflict are attacked, but also our home: the Earth.
UN Environment Program. (November 06, 2018) The devastating impact of conflicts on the environment.https://www.unep.org/en/news-and-reports/reports/the-devastating-impact-of-conflicts-on-the-environment
Conflict and Environmental Observatory. (June 04, 2020). How does war damage the environment?https://ceobs.org/how-does-war-damage-the-environment/
PAX for Peace. (2020) Witnessing the Environmental Impacts of War. https://paxforpeace.nl/media/download/witnessing-the-environmental-impacts-of-war.pdf
Greenpeace. (2020). Wars silent victim. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wars-silent-victim/
Yakovliev, Y., & Chumachenko, S. (2017). Ecological Threats in Donbas, Ukraine. Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Ceneva, 64.