November 6 is the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. The environment is often a silent victim of war. This day is therefore an important opportunity to reflect on how armed conflict often harms the environment and the need to safeguard the long-term health, safety and livelihoods of those affected.
Like most of the fallout from war, environmental damage lasts well beyond the armed conflict itself. For example, toxic remnants of explosives can lead to contamination of water and soil, which can last for decades.
This year is special. Last week, the United Nations General Assembly concluded the debate on the 27 principles for the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts (PERAC), and will soon vote for their adoption. This result is the result of almost a decade of work by the United Nations International Law Commission to articulate the legal framework for better protection of the environment, “before, during or after an armed conflict, including in employment status”.
The PERAC principles reflect a number of important points. For example, they call on governments and international organizations to cooperate in conducting post-conflict assessments and addressing environmental damage, including where remnants of war endanger public health and have a profound long-term impact on the environment. security and people’s livelihoods.
The war in ukraine, a highly industrialized country, has a devastating impact on the country’s environment. Since Russiafull-scale invasion in February, the conflict has caused untold human suffering, including environmental damage. For example, the bombardment by Russian forces of industrial infrastructure and chemical plants resulted in the leaking of toxic gases (ammonia and Hydrogen sulfide). Their attacks on the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol damaged water treatment facilities and increase environmental health hazards.
People’s safety and livelihoods depend on a clean and healthy environment. It is therefore crucial to protect ecosystems in times of armed conflict as well as in times of peace.