War and armed conflict have many damaging effects on the natural environment, crops are destroyed, water supplies are poisoned and forests are burnt. New technology that is used for war means that the destruction and damage of the environment is more serious and the long-term consequences can be worse.

On November 5, 2001, the UN General Assembly declared November 6 of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

Today, about 60 million displaced people are already fleeing conflict and disaster. The only way to avoid those numbers swelling even further is to grasp the opportunities offered by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the climate negotiations in Paris."

This International Day not only provides an opportunity to remember the environment as a silent victim, but also that natural resources can play an important role in conflicts themselves, as well as in post-conflict development and peacebuilding.

Despite the protection afforded by several legal instruments, the environment continues to be the silent victim of armed conflicts worldwide. Public concern regarding the targeting and use of the environment during wartime first peaked during the Viet Nam War. The use of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, and the resulting massive deforestation and chemical contamination it caused, sparked an international outcry leading to the creation of two new international legal instruments.

More recently, armed conflict in Iraq which began in June 2014, and ended with the capture of the last ISIL-held areas and retreat of ISIS militants in 2017, left a deep environmental footprint in its wake. As the militants retreated, they set fire to oil wells triggering the release into the air of toxic mix of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, particulate matter and metals such as nickel, vanadium and lead.

Armed conflict often causes negative environmental impacts. This can occur on local and regional levels. Impacts of war on ecosystems depend on the magnitude and duration of a conflict, as well as the types of weapons used. For example, a conflict over an isolated water source may impact only a few villages, but large international conflicts that employ modern weaponry could harm many regions. Recent environmental effects of armed conflict have included soil degradation, radioactive pollution, acid rain, and diminution of air quality.

In Nigeria, Konshisha local government in particular had experienced army conflict from the men of Nigerian army. In 2021 the Nigerian army launched attack on the people of Konshisha thereby rendering members of the community and the animals’ species homeless as they destroy the environment through burning foodstuffs, farmland and economical trees thereby releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere by the use of fight jets.

During the 15-year civil war in Mozambique, the Gorongosa National Park lost more than 90% of its animals. The African buffalo went down from 14,000 to 100 individuals, and the hippo population from 3,500 to 100. The elephant population declined from 2,000 to 200, as elephants' meat was used to feed soldiers and their ivory sold to finance the purchase of weapons, ammunition and supplies.

Anything – even armed conflict – that causes people to move out of an area can, however, be beneficial for wildlife or ecosystems, as that area is then given a respite from the consequences of development.

During a conflict, armed groups sometimes take over rural and forested areas, which provide cover and function as bases. This prevents people from moving in and exploiting those areas. But when the fighting ends, it also creates a window of opportunity for people to exploit natural resources previously out of reach. Therefore, when a society shifts from war to peace, it is vitally important to take measures to check deforestation and excessive use of natural resources.

International humanitarian law recognizes that some harm to the environment is an inevitable consequence of armed conflict. But damage cannot be unlimited, and it has provisions protecting the natural environment. Notably, international humanitarian law forbids attacks against the natural environment except in those rare cases when it has become a military objective. International humanitarian law also requires warring parties to take the possibility of environmental damage into account while deciding whether to carry out an attack.

We seeks to raise awareness of these rules and of the necessity for warring parties to limit damage to nature. And updating the 1994 Guidelines for Military Manuals and Instructions on the Protection of the Environment in Armed Conflict. Strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law would help limit the damage done to the natural environment by war; it would also help societies to recover from conflict. We will work with States and others to incorporate the Guidelines in military manuals, domestic legislation and policy, and also seek to ensure their effective implementation.

To prevent environmental damage, parties to conflict could:

1)       avoid situating troops or military material in fragile ecosystems or protected areas, such as national parks

2)       map areas of ecological importance or fragility, and not conduct military operations in these areas

3)       agree to designate such areas as demilitarized zones in which no military action may take place and from which both combatants and military material are barred.

About the Author: Kaior Alu James is an Undergraduate Student at the Department of Wildlife and Ranger Management, Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi Nigeria