War is The New Environmental Monster We Ignore

A helicopter flying by a fire
A helicopter flying by a fire Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

Let’s Unveil the Hidden Costs of War on the Environment

War has far-reaching consequences that go beyond human misery. It often goes unnoticed because of its immediate horrors, despite having a terrible impact on the environment. In this essay, I will discuss war’s hidden consequence: environmental damage, from weapon usage and pollution to deforestation and wildlife displacement, which degrade ecosystems and deplete natural resources. I also delve into the important need for sustainable practices and post-conflict environmental restoration. The true cost of war in our world cannot be underestimated.


Weapon Use and Pollution

The use of weaponry in battle expands the destructive reach of the conflict beyond human losses and leaves a lasting impression on the environment. Investigating the environmental repercussions shows a sad reality. Explosives, chemical warfare agents, and heavy weaponry emit toxic pollutants into the air, land, and water. This poisoning has far-reaching implications, causing long-term health issues for both humans and wildlife.

During the Vietnam War, aerial bombing assaults decimated lush forests. The use of a chemical defoliant known as Agent Orange intensified the destruction, leaving huge areas barren and devoid of vegetation. The implications of such deforestation are often severe.

Toxic war relics go on for years, impeding ecological recovery and creating issues for residents in post-conflict areas. Soil deterioration, water pollution, and habitat destruction undermine nature’s delicate balance, affecting biodiversity and the well-being of numerous species. The environmental cost of weapon usage must be considered while pushing for sustainable practices and the adoption of technologies that reduce pollution while protecting ecosystems and human health.

The armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has caused a loss of biodiversity by destroying crucial habitats for endangered species. The species include gorillas and elephants. This has disrupted the food chains, which has a ripple effect on predator-prey relationships and the overall ecological balance.

Deforestation and Habitat Destruction

Ecosystems have suffered following the war as a result of extensive deforestation and habitat damage. Forests and animal habitats are severely damaged by military operations, including bombing campaigns and scorched-earth policies. The effects expose a bleak reality, which includes biodiversity loss, disrupted food systems, and altered landscapes that undermine nature’s delicate equilibrium.

Forest degradation not only deprives innumerable species of their habitats, but also exacerbates climate change by lowering carbon sinks. This leads to the disruption of ecosystems that fail to recover, providing long-term challenges for plant and animal survival. Recognising the environmental cost of war-related deforestation and habitat damage is critical to pushing for conservation efforts, replanting programmes, and the protection of critical ecosystems. The delicate web of life must be preserved for our planet’s resilience and the well-being of future generations.

Resource Depletion and Scarcity

Natural resources become insatiably sought-after during the war, which hastens their depletion and makes them scarce. There are significant negative effects associated with using resources like timber, minerals, and fossil fuels for military purposes. The extraction of timber for construction, minerals for weapon manufacturing, and fossil fuels for energy needs puts enormous strain on ecosystems and leads to environmental degradation.

However, the consequences go beyond the ecosystem. Local communities suffer the brunt of resource depletion, dealing with economic insecurity and resource-related conflicts. Natural resource scarcity increases competition, resulting in social and economic tensions. These conflicts frequently exacerbate the cycle of war and resource exploitation.

For those who support sustainable practices and resource management, understanding the connection between conflict and resource depletion is essential. By placing a higher priority on ethical resource extraction, making investments in alternative energy sources, and supporting local populations in countries affected by conflict, we may lessen the long-term effects of resource depletion and move towards a more sustainable and peaceful future.
For instance, the ongoing fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has made a resource-driven issue worse. Coltan, tin, and gold are common minerals in the area and are needed for technical devices and weapons. Armed groups’ unrestricted extraction and use of these resources has resulted in environmental deterioration, deforestation, and displacement of residents.

The depletion of resources in the Congo has caused economic instability and fostered battles over mining concessions. Armed groups and militias compete for mine control, using revenues to fund further violence, creating a vicious cycle of resource-driven war and human suffering.

Displacement of Wildlife and Ecological Imbalance

Beyond human relocation, war has a profound impact on wildlife populations and causes ecological imbalances. Armed conflict has far-reaching consequences for many species’ migration patterns, breeding sites, and habitats. Conflict-induced ecosystem disruption leads to the loss of key habitats, the fragmentation of natural corridors, and the destruction of vital ecosystems, all of which have a direct impact on the survival of numerous species.
Disrupted migration patterns undermine the delicate balance of ecosystems and make it difficult for animals to find food and adequate nesting sites. The degradation of mating grounds and nesting sites adds to the difficulties that wildlife populations confront, limiting their reproductive success and overall survival.

Furthermore, the presence of armed conflict produces an unwelcoming habitat for wildlife. Increased human activity, such as the use of landmines and the presence of armed troops, disrupts wildlife behaviour and creates stress, resulting in diminished numbers and the potential extinction of fragile species.

The effects of war on wildlife and ecosystems show the critical importance of conservation efforts and natural habitat protection during and after conflicts. It necessitates the deployment of policies aimed at restoring ecosystems, promoting sustainable land management, and mitigating the negative consequences of armed conflict on wildlife populations and ecological balance.

The impact of war on wildlife displacement and ecological imbalance may be seen in Afghanistan’s conflict-ridden territory. Conflict has disturbed the migratory patterns of species including the snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep, and Siberian crane for decades. The insecurity induced by war has resulted in habitat fragmentation and loss, limiting these vulnerable species’ access to food, breeding sites, and safe migration routes.

Wildlife populations in the Central African Republic have been destroyed by armed conflicts. The presence of armed groups, as well as the displacement of local communities, has aided in the development of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, resulting in a drastic decline in elephant, gorilla, and chimpanzee populations. This change in ecosystem balance has far-reaching consequences, including disrupted seed dispersal, altered predator-prey relationships, and diminished biodiversity.

Sustainable Practises and Post-Conflict Rehabilitation:

While war destroys ecosystems and communities, there remains hope in the form of sustainable practices and post-conflict environmental rehabilitation. Efforts are being made to rehabilitate damaged ecosystems and build resilience in war zones.

Ecological restoration initiatives are critical to addressing the environmental harm caused by war. To restore biodiversity and conserve natural environments, these activities include reforestation programmes, wetland restoration projects, and the development of protected areas. Sustainable land management practices like agroforestry and regenerative agriculture can help regenerate war-torn areas.

Furthermore, post-conflict rehabilitation includes assisting war-affected local communities. These initiatives empower communities to reconstruct their lives in environmentally sensitive and resilient ways by providing alternative livelihood options, training in sustainable practices, and access to renewable energy.

Success examples from many conflict-affected places serve as beacons of hope, highlighting the possibility of long-term development in the aftermath of violence. By highlighting these examples and emphasising the beneficial impact of sustainable practises, we hope to spur additional action and investment in post-conflict environmental restoration, ultimately contributing to the healing of both ecosystems and communities devastated by violence.

Following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the country launched an incredible journey of post-conflict rehabilitation and long-term development. Rwanda prioritised environmental conservation, launching programmes such as reforestation and community-based conservation projects. As a result, tremendous progress has been made in repairing ecosystems, safeguarding endangered species such as mountain gorillas, and developing sustainable tourism in the country.

Colombia is rehabilitating war-torn landscapes and promoting sustainable practices after decades of armed conflict. The reintroduction of native species and rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems in conflict-affected places, such as the Montes de Mara region, is one significant endeavour. Through joint environmental restoration operations, these conservation and restoration programmes contribute to peacebuilding efforts by creating reconciliation among local populations.

The environmental devastation caused by war demands our attention and prompt response. Armed conflicts have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on ecosystems and populations, from weapon use and pollution to deforestation, wildlife displacement, and resource depletion.

There is, nevertheless, hope. Pathways to healing and resilience can be found in sustainable practices and post-conflict environmental repair. In the aftermath of conflict, examples from throughout the world demonstrate the potential of restoration programmes, conservation efforts, and community engagement in reconstructing ecosystems and fostering sustainable development.

Recognising the hidden costs of war on the environment, we can argue for policies that prioritise sustainable practices, responsible resource management, and post-conflict environmental rehabilitation. These efforts not only help to restore the environment, but they also foster peace, stability, and the well-being of affected populations.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the environmental toll of conflict spurs major change and a commitment to building a more sustainable and peaceful future for future generations. For example, after the civil war in Sierra Leone, the installation of sustainable mining practises, forestry projects, and community-based conservation programmes helped repair degraded landscapes and safeguard endangered species such as Western chimpanzees.

Similarly, community-led sustainable agriculture, ecotourism, and forest restoration have served to restore ecosystems, empower local communities, and foster social stability in post-conflict Cambodia.
These and other examples demonstrate that by acknowledging war’s hidden environmental costs, we may argue for policies and initiatives that value sustainable practices, responsible resource management, and post-conflict environmental rehabilitation. These efforts not only help to restore the environment, but they also foster peace, stability, and the well-being of affected populations.

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This article was updated on September 13, 2023
Osborn Baya

Osborn Baya

Political, Conflicts and Security Analyst. Providing valuable insights on international dynamics.

Welcome to my blog! As an avid follower of international politics, I am thrilled to embark on this journey with you. In an era defined by rapidly changing global dynamics, it is crucial to stay informed and engage in insightful discussions to navigate the complex world of international relations. I am here to offer valuable insights and expert commentary, shedding light on the intricate web of interactions that shape our global stage.