THE IMPACT OF WAR ON THE ENVIRONMENT
War has far-reaching, long-lasting, multi-faceted effects on the environment. First, there is the actual physical disruption to the landscape. Weapons use kills wildlife, shatters soil systems, destroys plant life, and disrupts water flows, leaving ecosystems in turmoil. Large numbers of refugees in an area leads to deforestation (clearing of forests or trees) and erosion from the undue pressure put on the resources of a local environment. Armed forces’ military vehicles and weapons use can hasten desertification (fertile land becoming desert) in an area. Wetlands and other vegetation are at risk of burning, whether done deliberately in a strategic act, or as an indirect result of fighting. In the disorder of armed conflict and the mass movement of displaced people, national parks are encroached upon, rare species and precious resources are more frequently poached, and conservation efforts already in place fall to the wayside.
Pollution is another repercussion of war upon the environment. Weapons of mass destruction and conventional bombing can cause radiological, chemical, or bio-toxic contamination of natural habitats and wildlife. Oil spills or oil well fires also toxically pollute wildlife and their natural habitats. (See “Impact of War on Animals”) The radioactivity that results from the production and testing of nuclear weapons threatens the health of biological species. Large groups of displaced persons or armed forces generate waste that pollutes areas not equipped for proper treatment and disposal, both during and after a conflict. Well-intentioned non-governmental organizations have been polluters in conflict areas as well, generating waste that they cannot properly dispose of or using unsustainable resources in their projects.
The list of environmental effects from conflict is alarming: erosion, deforestation, desertification, extinction, migration, pollution, radiation – affecting everything from soil and water systems, whole plant and animal species, to the humans who must live in the affected areas. The damage is long-lasting and in some cases, irrevocable.
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