TODAY -

International Day of Peace 2022 and environmental conservation

N Munal Meitei *



The 21st September is the International Day of Peace since 1981 and this year's theme is, 'End Racism. Build Peace'. This day dedicates to strengthen the ideals of peace through non-violence and cease-fire. The United Nations also wants to address hate speech and violence directed at racial minorities and to strengthen peace around the world.

The first and most serious tragedy of any armed conflict is its direct effects with heavy burden of civilian and military casualties. Along with the victims directly caused by firearms, there are all those who suffer from the indirect effects of war; refugees escaping the war, impoverishment of disputed areas with ensuing increase in unemployment, malnutrition, mortality rates and the collapse of institutions and all related services-from security to education and health.

Despite less attention, there are also environmental consequences, ranging from pollution due to materials contained in weaponry to the abandonment of sites that become themselves dangerous. In reality, these indirect consequences often cause more deaths in the long run than the war itself and the climatic and environmental effects of any conflict is least highlighted.

The war is also a multiplier of environmental disasters. But above all, there is unfortunately the jewel in the crown of environmental issues; the climate crisis. It could be said that global warming is both the cause and consequence of wars. It is a cause because the deterioration in climate issues acts as the origin of conflicts, increasing disputes over water, arable land and hydrocarbons. It is also a consequence because the global military is a giant pollution emitter.

According to the Environmental Performance Index, even before the Russian invasion launched in February 2022, Ukraine ranked low on environmental indicators like air quality, biodiversity richness and ecosystem health. So after the war the environmental situation in Ukraine will probably be worse than ever.

In this war, as per the UN High Commission for Human Rights, among 5827 civilians casualties, 375 are children and 8,421 injured from the military activities. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas also creates pollution from building materials including asbestos, metals and combustion products. Targeting these places provokes a lot of waste which can lead to soil and groundwater pollution and in turn to health problems for humans.

In Kabul, where conflicts began since 1978, almost 3,000 people died in 2018 from diseases attributable to air pollution only. That's more victims than the war provoked in the same year. Nonetheless, not only civilians are affected by the pollution derived from the war, the condition of the 'Gulf War Syndrome', the unusual mortality rate among American soldiers returning from the first Gulf War, is well known.

Although the scientific conclusion has not yet arrived, one of the most widely accepted hypotheses is that the excess mortality is due to the use of depleted uranium in the weapons of the Western coalition. A possibility that would also help explain why Iraq, a country involved in the conflict, has recorded some of the highest rates of leukemia and lymphoma in the world in recent years.

Now, we face a planetary emergency. A compound environmental crisis and a darkening security horizon are feeding each other in dangerous ways. Further these crises deepen and intertwine, the harder they will be to solve. In addition to these problems the weapons used during this war will raise the carbon footprint in the region. It will lock more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere putting us at a higher risk of climate change and related disasters.

At the same time the urgently needed transition to a zero carbon green economy is fraught with risks. Indicators of insecurity such as the number of conflicts, the number of hungry people and military expenditure are rising; so are indicators of environmental decline, climate change, biodiversity, pollution and other areas. In combination, the security and environmental crises are creating compound, cascading, emergent, systemic and existential risks.

This fundamental change is seen clearly in the character of victims. It had been estimated that during the First World War, more than 85% of the dead were soldiers. But in our times, 90% of those who die are civilians–more frequently women and children caught in the crossfire between fighting forces whose ultimate goal is no longer territorial conquest but rather societal disruption. This suggests that despite the best efforts of politicians and humanitarian groups, war and public health remain inherently at odds affecting humans and natural habitat.

Due to arms conflicts in Manipur, there are about 20,000 gun widows in the State. The burden of armed conflicts also often carries the places where the environment is already under a great deal of stress. The use of bombs, chemical and biological weapons as well as the use of depleted uranium, leaves its marks on the infrastructure, agriculture, forests and biodiversity as well as to the lives of the people living at the stage of those events for a long period of time.

Military machinery and the use of explosives causes deforestation. Due to the conflicts in Cambodia, 35 % of the country's forests had been destroyed. Bombing in Vietnam destroyed over 2 million acres of forests. This year as a result of Russia- Ukraine war both countries lost more than 27,000 ha of forests. Ukraine take 35% of Europe's Biodiversity and there are over 70,000 rare and endangered flora and fauna. 16% of Ukraine is covered by Forests and now 20,000 ha have been lost by bombing causing carbon footprints.

During armed conflicts the ecosystem services are often the least thing in people's minds. However, history has repeatedly shown that deterioration of the nature could also be a catalysts for war. It can bring people together to solve a common problem for the benefit of everybody. Instead of fighting over scarce natural resources and worsening the current situation, people can collaborate each other to improve the quality of the environment and reap the harvest of their efforts.

Communities and Nations can build confidence with each other through joint effort to improve the state and management of natural resources. Environmental co-operation can thereby act as an important tool for preventing conflicts and war and promoting peace between communities and countries.

In conclusion, it is clear that wars never bring good things. It only brings a huge amount of deaths, broken dreams, destroyed cities and nature. And it also brings a huge impact on the global climate crisis.

The war leads to potentially poisonous water, soil where humans used to grow plants unsafe to use, air full of toxic gases and particles and destroying huge areas of natural forests. Yet, beyond that the most immediate need is for wars to be stopped because it is taking us, humans and our environment, to a deadly destruction.


* N Munal Meitei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an environmentalist and can be reached at nmunall(AT)yahoo(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on September 20 2022 .



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