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UN DECLARES 6 NOVEMBER: INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR PREVENTING THE EXPLOITATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT IN WAR AND ARMED CONFLICT

Nairobi, 5 November 2002 - The International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict will be observed for the first time on

6 November 2002.

Though mankind has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment has often remained the unpublicized victim of war.

Environmental damage includes polluted air, water and land; unregulated plunder of natural resources by belligerents; and the negative impact of mass population movements on water, biodiversity and other ecosystems services. In many cases, the effects are only reversible in the long term.

United Nations Member States saw the need to monitor and assess damage to the environment following armed conflict and in 1999, requested the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its sister agency, UN-HABITAT to establish the UNEP/Habitat Balkans Task Force to collect information and analyse the consequences for the environment and human settlements of military actions in the Balkans region.

Since then UNEP has participated in a number of monitoring and assessment missions and projects, among them:

· Phase 2 of environmental clean-up feasibility studies at four sites in Serbia (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor) (February 2000);

· a UNEP team visited Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assess the environmental damage caused by the Kosovo conflict and the institutional capacity of the two governments to address environmental problems (September 2000);

· Environmental impact of refugees in Guinea (600,000 refugees fleeing into the area from conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia) (November 1999);

· Dispatch of a mission to Afghanistan to pinpoint those areas where environmental degradation occurred and to determine the need for a more in-depth assessment;

· In February 2002, the Governing Council requested UNEP to carry out a desk study on the Palestinian Territories. The study will identify the priorities for short and long-term environmental rehabilitation; consider opportunities to use environmental protection for peace-building and will propose urgent actions to strengthen the capacity of the institutional structures for environmental management and protection.

Some of the environmental consequences identified by UNEP misssions include:

· pollution and other collateral damage to the environment - oil spills, chemical leaks due to bombing of factories, oil refineries and storage facilities;

· deliberate acts of environmental sabotage - draining of Mesopotamian wetlands; torching of Kuwaiti oilfields and the widespread use of defoliants;

· destruction of habitats (gorilla population of Kahuzi Biega destroyed in the course of the unregulated extraction of coltan; and

· ruin of arable land by landmines, unexploded munitions and other debris of war.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: " War and conflict exact a terrible toll in terms of human lives, in terms of human misery and human dignity. They can also cause short-term and long-term damage to water supplies, the land, the air and precious habitats as a result of pollution and the use of weapons. Natural resources, such as forests, can be severely depleted by armies and warring factions. People and communities, displaced by conflicts, trigger environmental damage through no fault of their own".

"We have the Geneva Conventions, which are aimed at safeguarding the rights of prisoners of war and civilians. But we also need safeguards for the environment during times of war and in the aftermath of conflict. Unless the Earth's life support systems are given priority, then the chances of returning stability and prosperity to a country scarred and damaged by war will prove elusive, aggravating the already difficult work of peace keepers, and aid and humanitarian agencies that are called in to repair damaged communities long after the combatants have gone," he added.

The course for the future must be charted with a deeper respect for the environment. Member States must take stock of the guidelines drawn up to protect all victims of war. It is vital that maps be prepared and kept to facilitate clean-up activities when former belligerents come to the table to talk peace. The innocent should not be made to suffer long after the weapons of war have been silenced.

UNEP Information Note 2002/27

For more information, please contact: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel.: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 632755 or email: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Note to Editors: By resolution 56/4, the United Nations, on 5 November 2001, declared 6 November each year, as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

The findings of the Balkans Task Force (BTF) arecontained in the 1999 report "The Kosovo Conflict - Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements". In 1999, the BTF focused its work on five areas. To this end, four field missions were carried out between July and September - Environmental consequences of the conflict on industrial sites; on the Danube River; on biodiversity in protected areas; and for human settlements and the environment in Kosovo.

The BTF was renamed the Balkans Unit. It is now a permanent part of UNEP's Division for Environmental Policy Implementation and is presently known as the Post-Conflict Assessment Unit, having a global mandate.

The full report, "Environmental Impact of Refugees in Guinea", is available on the web at http://www.grid.unep.ch/guinea

For more information on the work of UNEP's Post-Conflict Assessment Unit, please visit the UNEP website at www.unep.org/mediaroom