memorandum by Mr Huseynov, rapporteur
1. Wars are first and foremost human dramas, but they
also all have economic, political and social consequences, some
of them linked directly to the environment. Such environmental factors
are often less obvious than the death and destruction that are the
immediate consequences of war. Nevertheless, from the planning of
armed conflicts to the reconstruction of a country, the environment
is playing an increasingly significant role.
2. Armed conflicts have disastrous consequences for the environment.
However, environmental protection only became a matter of international
concern with the defoliation of the Vietnamese jungle by the American army
in the 1960s. This war showed that in times of armed conflict the
environment could be simultaneously a victim of military operations
and a weapon.
3. Preserving the environment cannot be the main preoccupation
when human lives are threatened, but the recent Gulf wars, disfigured
by the burning of oil wells and the use of weapons containing depleted
uranium, have shocked the collective conscience and shown that the
impact of military conflicts on the environment is sometimes more
dramatic than the fighting itself.
4. Environmental damage is inevitable in time of conflict. Infrastructure
is destroyed, political destabilisation weakens environmental governance,
crop-growing cycles are disturbed and so on. In the medium term,
the environmental destruction is reflected in very high economic,
social and political costs. The impact of war is sometimes extremely
long-lasting. Certain First and Second World War sites still cannot
be farmed and continue to pose a threat to the neighbouring population
due to unexploded bombs and munitions.
5. Media coverage of wars helps to exert pressure on governments
and their armies, but also to a lesser extent on the arms industry,
which is encouraged to develop less polluting weapons. Images of
the environmental ravages of conflicts also show that such actions
are often more akin to acts of vengeance than to proportionate military
tactics. Here, the media can play a crucial role.
6. Rehabilitation of the environment, infrastructure and housing
is essential to any resumption of economic, social and political
activity in countries ravaged by war. Safeguarding the environment
should help to prevent the appearance of a vicious circle linking
armed conflict, environmental damage and poverty.
2.1 Treaties and customs
indirectly protecting the environment in times of armed conflict
7. Environmental protection in time of war does not
necessarily rely on specific environmental legislation. Numerous
precepts of war, often dating back decades or centuries, offer potentially
considerable protection for the environment in time of conflict,
even if they are not explicitly concerned with that subject. Examples
include the limitation principle, military necessity, discrimination
between military and civilian objectives, the ban on causing superfluous
injury or unnecessary suffering and proportionality. As well as
these customary rules that may indirectly protect the environment
there are the regulations governing certain weapons, such as incendiary,
chemical and bacteriological weapons and mines.
8. The limitation principle is one of the basic precepts
of the rules of war. It reflects the idea that not everything is
permitted. Hostile acts must not be pushed too far. This concept
is embodied in numerous international treaties, in particular the
Hague and Geneva conventions.
9. Article 22 of the Hague Convention states that “the right
of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited”.
Article 35 of Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions states that
“in any armed conflict, the right of the Parties to the conflict
to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited”.
10. The limitation offers the environment at least basic protection
in time of war. According to this principle, acts of war that harm
the environment are not all acceptable and any party that grants
itself the right to damage the environment with no regard for the
consequences is in breach of a fundamental rule of war.
2.1.2 Military necessity
11. The military necessity principle seeks to limit belligerent
states' capacity to choose the means and methods used to attack
their enemies. It offers a way of establishing how far any particular
form of military action can be deemed to be an acceptable act of
12. Article 23 of the Hague Convention forbids states from taking
steps to “destroy or seize the enemy's property, unless such destruction
or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war”.
13. Article 53 of the Geneva Convention (IV) prohibits “any destruction
by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually
or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other
public authorities, or to social or co-operative organisations …
except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by
military operations”. Article 53 is more exhaustive in terms of
the types of property protected, which include individually, collectively,
privately and state-owned property.
14. This article offers minimal protection to the environment
in the event of occupation.
15. Together, these two articles encapsulate the doctrine of military
necessity, which as one of the factors limiting damage to property
may also increase the protection of the environment in time of conflict.
16. However, further consideration is needed of the types of environmental
damage that are militarily necessary. Were the defoliation of the
Vietnamese forests or the burning of oil wells in the first Gulf
War necessary in terms of military strategy? In certain circumstances
environmental concerns should take precedence over military necessity.
between military and civilian objectives
Under the customary rules of war, belligerents must
distinguish between military and civilian targets. Article 52 of
Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which forbids attacks or reprisals
on civilian objects, identifies four categories of such objects:
cultural objects and places of worship, objects indispensable to
the survival of the civilian population, the natural environmentNote
and works and installations containing
18. The protocol does not define the natural environment and its
treatment is a lot vaguer than that of the other three categories
of civilian object. This nebulous character of the “natural environment”
makes it difficult to view the environment as an object per se and
thus, from a military standpoint, to grant it the status of civilian object.
19. Like many other objects, such as bridges, oil wells and transport
systems, the environment is thus deemed, according to circumstances,
to have either civilian or military status.
20. Unfortunately, the difficulty of defining it makes its total
exclusion from military objectives impracticable. However, it is
possible to say what type of environmental degradation does not
constitute a decisive military advantage. Thus the widespread condemnation
of the burning of Kuwaiti oil wells in 1991 showed that public opinion
considered these acts to be quite disproportionate and militarily
2.1.4 Causing the enemy
superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering
21. The idea of preventing unnecessary suffering is closely
bound up with military necessity and proportionality. Protocol I
strongly suggests that environmental damage in time of war is fundamentally
at variance with the laws of war and causes unnecessary suffering.
22. Article 35 sets out three rules governing the methods and
means of warfare. Article 35.1 states that the methods and means
of warfare are not unlimited, while Article 35.2 prohibits the use
of “weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of
a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering” and Article
35.3 that of “methods or means of warfare which are intended, or
may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage
to the natural environment”.
23. The decision to place Article 35.3 alongside these two long-established
principles of the law of armed conflict may possibly be based on
the belief that by associating environmental damage with these humanitarian legal
principles, this provision will be granted the same status as a
rule of law.
24. In so far as environmental degradation, whether as a result
of military objectives or as collateral damage, causes unnecessary
suffering, it is in breach of another established principle of humanitarian
25. In the laws of war, proportionality means that any
military action must be proportionate to its anticipated results
and therefore that the damage caused must not be disproportionate
to the military results.
26. This doctrine introduces the notion of excessive losses. Indiscriminate
(and disproportionate) attacks are defined as ones “which may be
expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians,
damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would
be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage
anticipated” (Article 51.5.b).
27. Proportionality is closely linked to the principle of military
necessity. Military actions that have a significant impact on the
environment and endanger the civilian population are incompatible
with the concept of proportionality.
28. The proportionality principle was reaffirmed by the International
Criminal Court, in its advisory opinion of 8 July 1996 on the legality
of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The court stated that the
principle was applicable and covered collateral damage caused to
the civilian population that was excessive as compared to the military
advantage offered. It confirmed that proportionality extended to
respect for the environment and that as a result belligerents were
not entitled to cause such damage in this area.
2.2 Specific legal
provisions protecting the environment in times of armed conflict
2.2.1 The ENMOD Convention
29. The Convention on the Prohibition of Military or
Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques,
or Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD), which is the basic
treaty on environmental protection in time of armed conflict, came
into force on October 1978, when it had been ratified by 20 countries. Since
1978, 74 states have ratified or acceded to the convention and 16
have signed it.
30. Under Article 1, “each State Party to this Convention undertakes
not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental
modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe
effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other
31. The convention was concluded under United Nations auspices
in response to fears arising from the use of means of combat during
the Vietnam War which were extremely harmful to the environment.
Article 2 prohibits the use of “any technique for changing – through
the deliberate manipulation of natural processes – the dynamics,
composition or structure of the Earth, including its biota, lithosphere,
hydrosphere and atmosphere, or of outer space”.
32. The convention is thus concerned with so-called geophysical
war and the use of geo-, or climate, engineering, based on the deliberate
manipulation of natural processes that could lead to earthquakes, tsunamis
or hurricanes, as well as torrential rain and heavy snow. Changes
to atmospheric and climatic conditions, and ecological balances,
are strictly forbidden.
33. The convention is the only legal instrument to ban the use
of the environment as a weapon of war.
34. Its main weakness is that it is confined to weapons that sometimes
come within the realm of science fiction. It focuses on what in
the English-speaking world is referred to as “active environmental
warfare”, as opposed to “passive environmental warfare”, in which
the environment is a victim rather than a weapon of war.
Nevertheless, it is still one of the main legal instruments
for protecting the environment in wartime. Its existence should
help to restrict military programmes aimed at climate control, such
as the HAARP programme.Note
It should also be noted that
a 1996 report to the US Air Force spoke of the need for it to take
steps locally to affect the climate, either to improve visibility
by dissipating clouds and fog or, in contrast, encouraging the formation
of unstable conditions to generate, to its advantage, clouds and
2.2.2 Protocol I of the
1977 Geneva Conventions
36. This protocol contains two articles specifically
concerned with protecting the environment in periods of armed conflict.
It bans ecological warfare, that is the use of combat methods likely
to jeopardise certain essential natural balances, thus posing a
threat to human safety and survival.
37. Article 55.1 states that “care shall be taken in warfare to
protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and
severe damage. This protection includes a prohibition of the use
of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected
to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby to prejudice
the health or survival of the population”.
38. Paragraph 2 also states that “attacks against the natural
environment by way of reprisals are prohibited”. Like most of the
principles of international law, this article is essentially anthropocentric;
the general obligation to protect the natural environment is based
on the need to protect the civilian population.
39. Article 35.3, however, is designed to protect the environment
as such. It prohibits the use of “methods or means of warfare which
are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term
and severe damage to the natural environment”.
40. Two other provisions of the protocol contribute indirectly
to protecting the environment in time of armed conflict. Article
54 (“Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the
civilian population”) includes “agricultural areas for the production
of food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and
supplies and irrigation works”. The protection of crops and livestock
offers limited collateral protection to the fauna and flora.
41. Article 56 (“Protection of works and installations containing
dangerous forces”) prohibits attacks on “dams, dykes and nuclear
electrical generating stations”. The environmental implications
of this provision derive from its ancillary prevention of collateral
damage arising from attacks on such installations. For example, the
destruction of a dam during a conflict would be in breach of Article
56 not only on account of civilian losses but also because of the
undesirable environmental consequences of the resulting flooding.
2.2.3 The Red Cross 1994
Guidelines for Military Manuals and Instructions
42. These guidelines produced by the International Committee
of the Red Cross also constitute customary rules of law that are
applicable in wartime. They are intended to “facilitate the instruction
and training of armed forces in an often neglected area of international
humanitarian law: protection of the natural environment”.
43. The guidelines are an awareness-raising instrument. The aim
is to persuade armed forces to protect the environment and to ban
the use of means and methods that are harmful to the natural environment
during conflicts. They are not concerned with establishing new provisions
but with ensuring that existing law is properly implemented and
44. They should be included in military manuals and instructions
on the laws of war.
45. They also refer back to the principles set forth in the Rio
de Janeiro Declaration on the Environment and Development of June
1992. According to Principle 24: “Warfare is inherently destructive
of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international
law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict
and co-operate in its further development, as necessary.”
Finally, on 5 November 2001, the United Nations General Assembly
decided that 6 November each year would be the International Day
for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed
The international day highlights the
international community's growing awareness that the harm caused
to the environment by armed conflicts can significantly impair ecosystems.
2.3 The application
of existing environmental protection
47. There are still problems with the application of
existing rules and standards, even though the law as it stands,
if correctly applied and respected, does offer adequate protection.
Stricter enforcement of existing international obligations is therefore
48. The conclusion to be drawn is that there is no need for a
new convention on environmental protection in time of war. The time
and effort required to draft such a document would require too many
human and financial resources that could be devoted to the more
important task of persuading armed forces and governments to respect
and implement the existing legislation.
3 Impact of armed
conflicts on the environment
3.1 Environmental impact
49. Any analysis of the environmental impact of armed
conflicts should focus on three main phases, namely pre-conflict,
the conflict itself and post-conflict.
50. During this phase, the main environmental risks posed
by the future conflict need to be identified and defined. The environmental
issues have to be considered at this stage so that they can be taken
into account when planning operations.
51. A certain number of specific impacts can be identified even
before fighting starts. If local inhabitants anticipate the start
of hostilities the result may be an irrational depletion of plant
and animal resources, such as illegal woodcutting and the killing
of wild animals, population movements, food shortages and so on.
52. The preparatory phase may also lead to greater use of natural
resources by the armed forces, involving deforestation, the construction
of dams, the establishment of camps and the creation of infrastructure
in the form of roads, bridges, feeding arrangements and sewage systems.
The arrival of armed forces may cause local inhabitants to abandon
productive land in occupied areas. This leads to degradation of
farmland and the environment.
53. The activities of the defence industry are also a matter of
concern in the pre-conflict phase. Since the 1991 Gulf War there
have been growing concerns about the effects on health and the environment
of depleted uranium weapons. Depleted uranium is an extremely dense
metal derived from low-level radioactive waste and is mainly used
by the United States and the United Kingdom in their conventional
weapons and missiles and in the armour plating of some of their
vehicles. Its ability to penetrate the armour plating of tanks and
other enemy vehicles has made it an extremely valuable material
for the US army, which has systematically minimised the potential
threat to health and the environment posed by prolonged exposure
to depleted uranium. Members of armed forces and civilians exposed
to this substance face an increased risk of lung cancer and kidney
54. The defence industry must bear part of the responsibility
for weapons manufacture. Research efforts should now focus on programmes
which have the least negative effect on the environment.
55. Another factor to note in the preparation for war phase is
the negative effect of military training on the environment. When
there is no major crisis, military training and exercises account
for about 70% of armed forces' activities. Their environmental impact
is by no means negligible and has a noticeably negative effect not only
on local inhabitants but also on animal life. For example, low-frequency
sonars used to detect submarines affect marine mammals. The NATO
naval exercises between the Canaries and the Straits of Gibraltar
in September 2002 caused the death of some 15 beaked whales. Autopsies
revealed lesions of the inner ear and showed that very powerful
sounds can cause the death of large cetaceans that are already threatened
by whaling and fishing.
56. Regrettably, there have been no strategic environmental assessments
comparable to the post-conflict assessments carried out by the United
Nations Environment Programme. Governments should be more aware of
the need to avoid irreversible environmental losses that threaten
rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, particularly in the case
of external operations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. International
and humanitarian organisations that are directly involved in post-conflict
management and reconstruction should also commission environmental
assessments with a view, in particular, to identifying the most
sensitive areas requiring increased protection and suitable locations
to settle refugees and displaced persons. Impact forecasting does
not raise any particular methodological problems. The major difficulty
lies rather in the fact that conflicts cannot always be anticipated
and that it is sometimes a complex operation to mobilise the necessary
funding. However such studies could be of interest to funding agencies
anxious to optimise their investments and make them more secure.
3.1.2 During conflicts
57. Conflicts tend to exacerbate already existing environmental
problems. For example, they can aggravate bad agricultural practices
and deforestation, and can also lead to desertification, drought,
erosion and loss of soil fertility, reduced flow in rivers and the
disappearance of wild fauna.
58. Conflicts often result in over-exploitation of natural resources
for both subsistence and commercial purposes. The irrational removal
of resources results in food shortages and deforestation. In the
recent Iraq conflict, for example, many people were forced to cut
down trees to use the wood for cooking and heating.
59. Deforestation sometimes takes the form of environmental manipulation
as part of military strategy, in which case it becomes a weapon.
Thus the massive use of herbicides such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam
war resulted in the destruction of more than two million acres,
or 14% of South Vietnam's forests.
60. Agent Orange contained dioxin, a cancer-causing substance,
which contaminated the food chain through river sediment and the
fish that local inhabitants ate. Numerous cases of cancer and malformation remain
to this day. A more recent case concerns Saddam Hussein, who deliberately
drained the marshes in eastern Iraq as a reprisal against the local
population who had risen up against him during the first Gulf War.
61. During the same war, the burning of oil wells polluted both
the air and the soil. The deliberate dumping of millions of litres
of oil into the Persian Gulf killed tens of thousands of birds and
caused damage to the coral and the coastline. It was the largest
oil spillage the world has ever known, equivalent to fifty times
the pollution caused by the tanker Prestige off
the coast of Spain. The bombing of Iraqi industrial plant in 1991
also resulted in large chemical spillages into the Tigris and Euphrates.
62. During periods of conflict, damage to the infrastructure has
a major effect on the local environment and public health services.
Water supplies can be damaged and contaminated by bombing. In Afghanistan,
the destruction of the water supply infrastructure, coupled with
a weakened system of public governance, has resulted in bacteriological
contamination and considerable loss of water, compounded by leaks
and illegal use. The main consequence has been a drop in the quantity
of drinking water available in the country. Similarly, in the former
Yugoslavia, the destruction of villages by Serb forces also destroyed
drinking water and sewage systems.
63. Water shortages lead to inadequate irrigation of farmland.
Agricultural production is also adversely affected by intensive
bombing and the passage of military vehicles over crops. In some
countries, anti-personnel mines can make vast tracts of agricultural
land unusable. When residents can no longer farm their land they
turn to non-cultivated food products and collect or pick local natural
resources. Even in the short term, such large-scale exploitation
of resources is not sustainable.
64. Humanitarian organisations themselves use huge quantities
of wood for building purposes. In the long term, deforestation and
excessive use of natural resources can have a very negative impact
on the means of subsistence of local populations.
65. The collapse of environmental governance leads to faster,
and even irreversible, environmental degradation. Conservation activities
suffer greatly from conflicts. Government offices are often looted. Institutional
systems of protection such as protected areas and national parks
become the focus for displaced persons or combatants.
66. People abandon productive areas occupied by armed forces and
settle in refugee camps which, in a state of emergency, do not comply
with the standards necessary for long-term protection of the environment. Unfortunately,
a badly chosen site or inadequately designed sanitation systems
can contaminate the soil and water. These harmful effects often
appear once camps have been dismantled.
67. The absence of environmental governance in times of conflict
places the onus for managing and mitigating their impact on international
organisations, which must take all possible steps to apply the international
regulations (see the first part of this report). Failure to comply
with the customary rules of war discussed earlier may give the International
Criminal Court a role in protecting the environment during conflicts.
68. Nor should we forget the media, which must play a part in
drawing public attention to the environmental impact of armed conflicts.
The press can help to restrain belligerents, by warning them against
abuses of the civilian population and the environment.
69. The environmental impacts continue and may even become
more serious once a conflict is over, particularly on account of
the requirements of resettling people and reconstructing the country.
The return of refugees to their place of origin leads to over-exploitation
of resources to meet food and energy needs.
70. The collapse of economic and environmental governance leads
to breakdowns in waste collection arrangements, followed by pollution
and the risk of infectious diseases.
71. Such situations are regularly accompanied by the appearance
of slums and shanty towns, which lead to social vulnerability and
72. Communities may come into conflict over access to and control
of resources, threatening the delicate balance of the peace settlement.
Military waste, the subject of a separate report,Note
may pollute countries or regions
for decades. Munitions that have not been defused, rusting ships
and unexploded mines may contaminate the soil and water for years to
come. In Vietnam, several generations of children have been affected
by cancers and malformations caused by polluting chemicals such
as Agent Orange.
74. The damage to local enterprises and the environment also has
long-term economic and social effects.
3.2 The link between
environment and development
75. War and the environment can form part of a vicious
circle. Environmental degradation can lead to increased poverty,
which in turn increases political instability and thus the risk
of armed conflict.
76. The exhaustion of basic natural resources thus poses a threat
to local inhabitants' prospects for peace and their long-term livelihood.
Environmental damage generates poverty and provides favourable circumstances
for a vicious circle of depleted resources, political instability,
intensification of armed conflicts, further environmental degradation
and more poverty.
77. In this way, the environment becomes a source of conflict.
Sometimes the aim is to gain control over resources, or alternatively
the resources may serve to finance a struggle. However, there is
not always a precise relationship between natural resources and
armed conflict. The links may be purely circumstantial. It would
often be more correct to see a shortage of resources as a symptom
of more significant social problems rather than as a direct cause
of fighting. Conflicts tend to exacerbate existing conditions rather
than create new problems.
78. It is states who are first and foremost responsible
for their armies and their training.
79. Governments, whether or not they are based on coalitions,
must draw up contingency plans similar to those for natural disasters.
The main aim is to avoid irreversible environmental losses. Unfortunately,
when belligerent states operate as a coalition they may not necessarily
have the same military culture and will rarely be concerned with
the environmental impact of their co-ordinated strategies.
80. Nevertheless, organisations with a permanent joint structure
could benefit from environmental awareness training. One example
is the European Union, which has started such awareness-raising
activities after seeing the impact of the first European Security
and Defence Policy operations in the Balkans.
81. NATO also offers a useful basis for consideration of the environmental
impact of conflicts, since the member countries are part of a long-term
alliance in which such a programme could be one element of the headquarters’
training in time of peace.
82. The main problem concerning responsibility in time of conflict
is that when several parties are involved none of them accepts exclusively
environmental liability and each tends to act as a form of “freeloader”,
in full awareness of the fact that it is subsequently difficult
to determine who was responsible for what.
3.3.2 International and
83. Humanitarian organisations have an important role
to play in environmental planning. To deal with population movements,
emergency planning and the establishment of refugee camps they have
to come up with rapid solutions that are both socially and environmentally
84. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International
Committee of the Red Cross should be able to commission strategic
environmental assessments based on the data at their disposal on particular
countries or regions. Such studies should identify sensitive areas
and suitable locations for refugee camps.
85. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has taken
a particular interest in post-conflict environmental assessment.
Nevertheless, it could well benefit from equivalent pre-conflict
86. Finally, funding agencies such as the World Bank, which want
to make sure that their money is properly used, have every interest
in ensuring in advance that their investment and reconstruction
programmes are based on favourable conditions.
87. Similarly, in the post-conflict period, international financial
institutions need to deal carefully with the authorities responsible
for collapsing national economies. Demands for the immediate repayment
of outstanding debt could lead indirectly to the over-exploitation
of natural resources.
3.3.3 The arms industry
88. The defence industry has primary responsibility for
arms manufacture, particularly when polluting materials are used.
89. Many weapons likely to be used in conventional warfare have
a long-term impact on the environment. Examples include anti-personnel
mines and cluster bombs, chemical, bacteriological or nuclear weapons, incendiary
devices containing phosphorus and weapons containing heavy metals,
such as uranium and tungsten. Most of these weapons are covered
by international treaties.
In recent times there has been increased awareness of the
environmental consequences of the use of certain materials in weapons
production. Even so, there is still much to be done before real
action is taken to protect the environment and it is recognised
as a key factor. Armed forces are still primarily concerned with
the operational performance of their weapons. They worry about the
extra cost and delays of developing cleaner materials. One of the
main problems of ecodesignNote
the weapons industry wants to remain export competitive and is afraid
that taking account of environmental issues will be an additional
constraint on an already complex process.
91. However, it is important for the design, manufacture, use
and disposal processes to take account of the principles of sustainable
development. Environmental concepts need to be taken into account
at the earliest possible stage in product design.
92. Research needs to be carried out into finding replacements
for substances that could be prohibited and that cause the long-term
pollution of environments that have already been ravaged by wars.
4.1 Afghanistan and
93. A country ravaged by several decades of war has seen
its natural resource base depleted and has a very limited national
capacity to deal with the resulting problems.
94. The war, which began in 2001, has severely reduced the capacity
for environmental management, destroyed infrastructure, and hindered
agricultural activities. These effects, coupled with three to four
years of drought affecting most of the country, have caused serious
and widespread damage to land and other resources, including lowered
water tables, desiccation of wetlands, deforestation and widespread
loss of vegetative cover, erosion and loss of wildlife populations.
95. These problems are compounded by the increasing numbers of
people who are being displaced due to insecurity arising from degraded
environments and loss of livelihoods. The lack of effective environmental management
and extensive environmental damage is increasing human vulnerability
to natural disasters. With the widespread loss of forest and vegetation
cover, fragile soils are now exposed to both wind and water erosion.
This reduces or even destroys land productivity. Without vegetation
to act as a sponge to absorb rainwater, extensive flooding is also
likely to occur, eroding both river channels and key agricultural
lands downstream. Sedimentation of irrigation canals and river basins
will further exacerbate the situation.
96. In late July 2010, torrential rain and floods in central and
eastern Afghanistan left several thousands homeless close to the
Pakistan border. Nearly 80 persons were killed. It is to be feared
that more such floods will follow.
97. With the return of refugees, additional pressures on urban
infrastructure and natural resources will make the situation still
worse. Desperation could result in increased environmental degradation,
including further loss of forest cover, overgrazing, un-co-ordinated
water use and unsustainable dry land cultivation.
98. Scarcity of resources could cause an influx of millions of
refugees into urban areas or neighbouring countries, causing increased
tensions and continued instability, and setting the stage for renewed
99. A long-term improvement in environmental conditions will require
significant regional co-operation and considerable technical and
financial assistance from the international community. The torrential
rain that has affected thousands of Afghans in the conflict zones
threatens the livelihood of an already highly vulnerable population
and has increased the health risks to them. The social and economic
impact on the country is a source of great concern and the political
and security repercussions threaten its stability.
100. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the 1991 Gulf War,
the Saddam Hussein regime, the economic impact of UN sanctions and
the recent Gulf conflict have seriously damaged the Iraqi environment.
The Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 was characterised by the
use of chemical and biological weapons and the dumping of oil in
the Gulf. The use of tabun, a nerve gas, and mustard gas against
the Iranians and the Kurds caused major environmental pollution,
in addition to their clearly horrendous effects on health. For the
first time during this conflict, the UN Security Council intervened
to call on the belligerents to protect the marine environment and
“refrain from any action that may endanger peace and security as
well as marine life in the region of the Gulf” (Resolution 540
The first Gulf War in 1991 was the scene of the most significant
marine oil pollution in history. Setting fire to some 600 Kuwaiti
oil wells resulted in major atmospheric pollution in the form of
acid rain and the destruction of vegetable cover. Attacks on the
electrical power system and industry resulted in increased desertification,
as a result of water shortages, and the release of polluting waste.
There was also considerable military waste left over after this
war, with a large number of unexploded shells and the use of depleted
uranium. The conflict also led to another legal landmark in the
form of unprecedented claims for compensation for environmental
damage resulting from, in the words of Security Council Resolution 687 (1991)
“Iraq's unlawful invasion”.
The environmental damage resulting from the 2003 conflict
was the logical consequence of the earlier problems, which were
never resolved and which were made worse by the combined effects
of UN sanctionsNote
the low priority given to environmental issues by the former Iraqi
Government. The major effects on the environment were the disruption
of energy, water supply, sanitation and waste disposal systems,
with the associated rise in health problems among the general population.
104. Far fewer oil wells were burnt than in the 1991 war, so there
was less of an environmental impact.
The coalition forces confirmed the use of depleted uranium
weapons, which could lead to:
inhalation of depleted uranium dust when bombs explode, which poses
a potentially serious additional health risk for anyone in the immediate
vicinity who has survived the explosion;
- general contamination, if at a low level, of the soil
surface, by depleted uranium;
- the presence in certain locations of intact depleted uranium
- the possible contamination of drinking water from underground
sources through the corrosion of depleted uranium shells or fragments
of these shells.
106. A population that has already suffered greatly from the absence
of certain forms of infrastructure has been further affected by
the increasing number of dust storms, an indication of the human
damage caused to the country's ecosystem. Coupled with several years
of drought, the war has transformed what was recently arable land
into desert, destroying trees and other vegetation. According to
certain experts, what was once the breadbasket of the Middle East
has now become a dust bowl. This generates respiratory problems
and Iraq now imports 80% of its food supplies.
107. The desertification process has been speeded up by the passage
of combat vehicles, which destroy the plant cover. Water shortages
have led to the shutting down of certain power stations so people
are forced by necessity to cut down trees for cooking and heating
purposes, which also contributes to desertification.
108. The Tigris, which was the main source of water, food and leisure
activities, has been transformed into a stagnant ditch. The river
has become a cemetery, the water level of which is falling and where
fishing is forbidden. Industrial emissions and discharges which
lack proper government oversight have contributed to the river's
pollution, as does a large quantity of hospital and depleted uranium
waste. This pollution is hindering local economic development.
4.2 Israel, Lebanon
4.2.1 Lebanon (2006)
109. The July-August 2006 conflict had a significant impact
on Lebanon. The fighting resulted in a large quantity of debris
from demolished buildings. Traditional waste management sites became
rapidly saturated so that temporary sites had to be set up as a
matter of urgency, in inappropriate locations.
110. Polluting hospital waste following the large number of deaths
and injuries was not properly dealt with and poses a serious risk
to public health.
111. Before the conflict started, water distribution networks were
being upgraded across Lebanon. They were badly affected by the war,
with the resulting risks of water pollution and contamination. Bad
management of waste water also poses a serious risk to the environment.
112. Military waste can also be a threat to public safety. In November
2006, UNMACC (the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre of South Lebanon)
identified nearly 815 sites where cluster bombs had been dropped
and estimated that there were still nearly a million items of unexploded
ordnance on Lebanese soil. These pose a serious threat to the Lebanese
population and are a major obstacle to reconstruction. Agricultural
land has also been significantly contaminated by cluster bombs.
113. The United Nations Environment Programme found evidence of
the use of shells containing white phosphorus. Their use was confirmed
by the Israeli military authorities.
114. There was also an oil slick in the eastern Mediterranean following
the Israeli bombing of storage tanks at the Jiyeh power plant in
15 July 2006. The spillage of 20 to 30 000 tonnes of oil had a severe
impact on coastal settlements and affected a third of the Lebanese
coast. The slick killed fish, threatened the natural habitat of
green turtles and could increase the cancer risk for the local population.
115. According to the United Nations Development Programme, “fifteen
years of work have been wiped out in a month”. It estimates the
cost of the war as at least $15 billion, with 15 000 dwellings,
80 bridges and 94 roads destroyed or damaged. The efforts made since
the end of the civil war have been “annihilated”.
4.2.2 The Gaza Strip
116. The recent conflict in which Israel and the Palestinians
confronted each other between December 2008 and early 2009 has had
a profound and lasting effect on the environment in the Gaza Strip.
117. A report published by the United Nations Environment Programme
highlighted the catastrophic environmental consequences of the armed
conflict. Groundwater reserves could fall dramatically because of massive
levels of extraction and pollution, which have been aggravated by
the recent conflict. More than 1.5 million Palestinians depend on
these underground reserves for drinking water and agriculture.
118. It is therefore becoming necessary to find alternative sources
of water and allow the groundwater sources time to recover. Water
shortages could have consequences over several decades. The Palestinian Territories
and Egypt share the same aquifers so there has to be a compromise
between the two countries.
119. The annual level of extraction of water of about 160 million
cubic metres has exceeded the replacement level for several years.
This has led to a rise in groundwater salinity from saltwater intrusion
caused by over-abstraction of the groundwater, alongside pollution
from sewage and agricultural run off. Pollution levels are such
that infants in the Gaza Strip are at risk from nitrate poisoning.
It is likely that some of the spillage of sewage from treatment
plants, the result of power cuts, has filtered through the porous
soil into the underground aquifer. The very nature of the soils
in the Gaza Strip means that sewage from overwhelmed and unsealed
landfills can easily percolate down into the aquifer.
120. Air strikes have generated 600 000 tonnes of demolition debris.
An estimated 17% of cultivated land, including orchards and greenhouses,
has been severely affected, with adverse consequences for farmers' livelihoods
and those of the population at large. Destruction of vegetation
cover and compacting of soil by strikes and tank movements has degraded
the land and made it vulnerable to desertification. It is possible
that this land will be difficult to revegetate.
121. There has also been soil contamination from petroleum-based
substances often exceeding internationally recognised limits. These
fuel spills could percolate into the groundwater.
122. Humanitarian action is no substitute for a peace process.
Reconstruction is very unlikely to be successful unless there is
a lasting peace. Gaza's isolation must be brought to an end if its
people are to have any real prospects of lasting economic development.
4.3 Refugees and the
environment: examples of Kosovo and the South Caucasus
123. In March 1998, a flood of refugees started to arrive
in Albania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. An estimated
260 000 persons found refuge in Albania and 460 000 in “the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
124. This sudden influx presented a major humanitarian challenge
for these states and the international community. It was above all
a logistical problem that called for host families, tents and reception
centres. Some 92 000 refugees were also sent to 29 other host countries.
125. Lack of time, owing to the urgency of the situation, prevented
appropriate environmental planning, yet humanitarian crises inevitably
have a major environmental dimension. While support for the refugees
is the absolute priority, it is still necessary to consider the
resulting environmental damage to draw lessons for the future.
126. Vast quantities of solid waste are inevitable when the elementary
needs of displaced persons are satisfied. Effective waste management
is largely a function of the host country's infrastructure. In the
case of Albania, certain locations, such as beaches and coastal
forests, were the scene of illegal dumping.
127. Water supplies are also critical if displaced persons are
to have acceptable living conditions. In the case of “the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, the peak of the humanitarian crisis
coincided with very high summer temperatures, which increased the
demand for water and pressure on the supply system. There were shortages
in certain camps and some local communities.
128. Steps were also taken to minimise the risk that aquifers would
be contaminated by sewage. Sewage management is a priority in refugee
camps and other collective accommodation centres. The additional
volume of used water often threatens to overwhelm urban treatment
facilities. It increases the volume of untreated chemical and biological
pollutants that then contaminate the drinking water supply. In “the
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, during the humanitarian
crisis, huge quantities of untreated sewage were discharged into
129. Refugee camps can also affect biodiversity and cause deforestation,
since refugees have no other choice than to cut down trees to meet
their basic needs for heating and food preparation. Although minor incidents
were reported in the two countries concerned, the camp managers
were able to respond rapidly by supplying hot meals and heating
130. Finally, flat open land is generally preferred for locating
refugee camps. Agricultural land is often ideal. In “the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, several camps were installed on
agricultural land. Although these sites were cleaned by the UNHCR
after their closure, part of the land continued to be covered for
a long time by gravel, preventing its cultivation. The loss of this
agricultural land has important financial repercussions for the
families that farm it.
131. Kosovo itself has been relatively stable for several months.
Nevertheless, the north is still a flashpoint. Relations between
the Serb and Albanian communities remain tense, particularly in
connection with electricity distribution and the reconstruction
of homes. Efforts to persuade displaced persons and refugees to
return home continue, but with limited success because of the lack
of economic prospects.
4.3.2 The South Caucasus
132. The situation of refugees and displaced persons in
the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) continues to
pose a challenge for these three countries' economic stability and
is a serious obstacle to their economic and social development.
133. Most of the persons displaced by force from the conflict zones
are still refused the right to return to their homes. These refugees
are often used as political tools in the conflicts. Hundreds of
thousands of refugees and persons who fled their homes during the
war in Nagorno-Karabakh or on account of it still remain far away and
are deprived of their rights, in particular the rights to return,
to their property and to individual security. They are condemned
to isolation and poverty with no prospect of eventually leading
decent and peaceful lives.
134. Poverty and malnutrition, the lamentable state of some of
the infrastructure, schools used to house refugees and displaced
persons and inadequate health facilities are all obstacles to the
success of programmes to reintegrate and improve the situation of
refugees in the three countries of the South Caucasus.
135. The refugees are economically, socially and politically vulnerable.
Cases are reported of displaced persons living in public buildings
in an advanced state of decay. Numerous persons have been shockingly abandoned,
in unsuitable dwellings that are breeding grounds for tuberculosis.
136. The military conflicts which have continued since the late
1980s in various parts of the South Caucasus have had a serious,
adverse impact on the ecological balance not only in the territories
where those conflicts are taking place, but also in the entire region.
137. Research has shown that the movement of just one tank leads
to the destruction of 70 shrubs, two river beds, five springs and
20 trees within an area of 50-70 metres. The dropping of small bombs
adversely affects the atmospheric conditions in the surrounding
area within sixteen days. Projectiles dropped by just one helicopter
irreversibly damage the layer of soil, resulting in an infertile
area of land (within fifteen days if there is rain and within nine
days in totally dry weather) in which no plants can grow for twenty
years. The incidence of tuberculosis is 2.5 times higher in the
surrounding settlements. This gives some idea of the scale of the lasting
damage to the environment. The most damaged zones in this regard
are the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent Azerbaijani districts
covering a total area of 17 610 km2. Since the early 1990s, these territories,
most of which are suitable for agriculture, have become depopulated
and no longer cultivated. This, in addition to all the other consequences,
has rapidly led to their erosion.
138. The cultivation of narcotics in these territories, subject
to no international control whatsoever, stubble burning following
the harvest, the burial of nuclear waste from other states and the
merciless destruction of the forest cover have all contributed to
the prospect of long-term environmental damage. The use of the Bazarchay,
Hakary, and Basitchay rivers and other waterways has become impossible
as a result of the constant polluting with military, industrial
and water-born waste.
139. Furthermore, as a result of the military conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh
region and the fires regularly started over the last twenty years,
some 47 species of plants and 19 species of trees have been eradicated once
and for all.
140. It is important to recognise the link between the
environment and development, a link sometimes encapsulated in the
notion of “sustainable development”. What makes environmental protection
in periods of armed conflict even more significant is the fact that
most of the conflicts in which Council of Europe member states take
part are external operations in which the reconstruction of the
country and political stability are the keys to success.
141. It is not necessary to draw up a new convention concerned
exclusively with protecting the environment in time of war. What
is really important is to make proper use of existing treaties.
The rigorous application of laws and regulations already in force
would provide effective protection to the natural environment during armed
142. In terms of environmental protection, anticipatory action
is the most promising. This will entail profound changes, not so
much in the legal framework as in the very way in which military
strategies are conceived.
It is therefore recommended that member and non-member states
of the Council of Europe:
the training of civilian and military personnel and military headquarters
on environmental issues in times of armed conflict;
- exchange information on environmental management in periods
of armed conflict and the harmonisation of existing legislation
on this subject;
- appoint a “sustainable development” correspondent in the
European Defence Agency;
- relaunch the Convention on the Prohibition of Military
or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques
(ENMOD Convention) to restrict military climate control programmes;
- integrate ecodesign into arms programmes;
- assess the risks to the environment posed by military
exercises, such as noise and threats to wildlife;
- encourage NGOs to undertake pre-conflict assessments where
possible, to improve the humanitarian planning of conflicts and,
in particular, the siting of refugee camps;
- release funds so that international organisations such
as the United Nations Environment Programme can carry out pre-conflict
- ratify the treaty banning cluster munitions, which entered
into force on 1 August 2010 and encourage partner states such as
Israel and Afghanistan to do the same;
- support the drafting of a treaty to ban phosphorous weapons.