Peacekeepers told to watch their ecological footprint

The United Nations has told peacekeeping forces and aid workers that they must consider their environmental impact or risk aggravating problems in areas where they are active.

The environmental damage caused by wars is well documented but the drain on natural resources posed by peacekeepers is considered less often.

This week the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) invited military and civilian aid experts to discuss the issues.

It suggests that in post-conflict countries the demand for natural resources such as wood and water created by those who have gone to help can actually hinder recovery.

However, through better planning and management practices UNEP claims this demand could be drastically reduced.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP executive director, said: “The primary role of international peacekeeping forces and aid agencies is to keep the peace and support vulnerable communities during difficult and distressing times.”

“But they also have the responsibility to ensure that their presence and operations have a minimal ecological footprint and do not aggravate environmental degradation, which may be a dimension of the conflict.”

The meeting looked at concrete ways to improve the sustainability of peacekeeping and relief work, including the use of technology to improve water and energy efficiency and green building techniques to reduce the demand on natural resources.

“There is a growing awareness of the need for action”, said Mr Steiner, “and momentum is now building to find ways of protecting the environment and the long-term livelihoods of affected communities.

“Some agencies are already leading the way. Their examples of good practice must be built upon to promote this important agenda.”

Sam Bond

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