While environmental damage is all but inevitable during wars, the global community acknowledges that efforts should be made to reduce the impact where possible.

Since 2001, November 6 has been designated by the UN as International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

However, the day is currently more aspirational than practical, with those engaged in conflicts rarely stopping to consider the environmental consequences of their actions.

Indeed, there are many historical instances of deliberate acts of environmental sabotage, from the widespread use of defoliants by American forces in Vietnam to the torching of Kuwaiti oilfields by retreating Iraqis in Gulf War 1.

Environmental damage to air, water and land can also be caused by the unregulated exploitation of natural resources, landmines and unexploded munitions, movement of heavy artillery and troops, chemical and oil spills, fires, and displaced people.

The environment will inevitably come second place to the human crises during a war, but, according to the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), unless we protect the environment during and after war, the chances of returning stability and prosperity to that area are limited.

Dr Richard Pagett, a member of CIWEM’s environmental management panel and a specialist in post-conflict environmental management issues said: “Set within a context of human misery, environmental damage is not regarded as an immediate issue unless it is of overwhelming economic importance, such as the burning oil wells of Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

“Although some positive outcomes can occur, such as when a vacated area becomes enriched with wildlife and vegetation, this is weighed against the destruction of social networks, systematic atrocities and the collapse of workable government.

“Future success after the conflict period may rely on natural resources and their careful management. Safeguarding natural resources in a conflict zone during the conflict itself makes sound social and economic sense for future stability.”

CIWEM is calling for rules of war to safeguard the environment, akin to the Geneva Convention but geared towards protecting the planet.

Nick Reeves, executive director of the institution, said: “Long term environmental damage is an inevitable consequence of war. The environment may seem a minor casualty but combined with the destruction of democratic informed decision-making, war prolongs human suffering and undermines the foundation for social progress and economic security.

“CIWEM demands a convention to examine the establishment of UN protocols for the protection of the environment.”

“We also need to acknowledge that fighting occurs where resources are scarce due to over population, meaning we need sensible population policies. We must treat the environment and each other with more respect.”

Sam Bond

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