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Witnessing the Environmental Impacts of War - Environmental case studies from conflict zones around the world

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Introduction

Across conflict-affected areas, stories of affected infrastructure, water resource challenges, deforestation, and oil pollution, backed by satellite imagery, open source investigations, and official accounts, show there is a long road to recovery.

And when the guns are put down, when the fighting stops, that doesn’t mean the path is clear. Legacy munitions, land grabbing and governance vacuums can all contribute to unprecedented environmental damage. These impacts may be compounded by climate change.

Yet not all is lost. More and more, issues around conflict and the environment are gaining traction. States and global institutions are recognising they need capacity to identify, act on and mitigate the environmental risks that can destabilise societies, and that can occur because of armed conflicts. Humanitarian actors are actively incorporating environmentally sensitive approaches in post-conflict efforts to reduce future harm. To build sustainable peace and support communities there is a clear need to assess environmental risks, protect civilians from environmental harm, and assist victims after conflicts, remediate damage, and employ the environmentally sound tools at our disposal to regenerate ecosystems.

While some efforts are underway to strengthen, implement and respect the laws protecting the environment in relation to armed conflicts, and hold those responsible for harm to account, more must be done. The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of cooperation and coordination across borders preventing and mitigating destructive chaos. Crisis response actions demonstrated by the pandemic, and long-term recovery plans reinforce the necessity to protect the environment and people who depend on it. Bold leadership, supported by science-based solutions, protects ecosystems, and saves lives.

This publication represents a diverse group of organisations working on human rights, peacebuilding, legal experts, humanitarian demining organisations and environmental groups to show the breadth and complexity of conflict-linked environmental harm. The case studies presented outline why attention to the environment in relation to armed conflicts is necessary. From illegal forestry in post conflict Colombia to the scenes of wanton agricultural destruction in Iraq, the conflict induced governance gaps leave not only civilians but the environment directly in harm’s way. Ongoing environmental risks from fighting in industrialised areas in Ukraine and Syria illustrate the toxic legacies of warfare.

New tools and technologies like those monitoring agricultural stresses in Yemen or deforestation and pollution in Syria, enable monitoring and identification of issues for post-conflict attention. And in areas where the fighting has stopped, efforts to protect the environment from future harm while clearing the explosive legacy of conflict offer an opportunity to address the twin threats of unexploded ordnance and nonbiodegradable wastes. There is also hope, as communities come together to protect water and build a lasting and resilient peace.