From the massive defoliation campaigns of the Vietnam War to the extensive pollution caused by the destruction of 600 oil wells in Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War, the environment continues to fall victim to armed conflict worldwide. UNEP has conducted over twenty post-conflict assessments since 1999, using state-of-the-art science to determine the environmental impacts of war. From Kosovo to Afghanistan, Sudan and the Gaza Strip, UNEP has found that armed conflict causes significant harm to the environment and the communities that depend on natural resources. Direct and indirect environmental damage, coupled with the collapse of institutions, lead to environmental risks that can threaten people’s health, livelihoods and security, and ultimately undermine post-conflict peacebuilding. Because the environment and natural resources are crucial for building and consolidating peace, it is urgent that their protection in times of armed conflict be strengthened.

While the environment and natural resources enjoy protection under several important international legal instruments – such as the Geneva Conventions – the implementation and enforcement of these instruments remains very weak. There are few international mechanisms to monitor infringements or address claims for environmental damage sustained during warfare. In 2001, the UN General Assembly declared the 6th of November of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict (A/RES/56/4), recognizing the need to improve the protection of natural resources and the environment during times of armed conflicts.

As part of the Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme, UNEP is working with key partners such as the International Committee of the Red Cross to analyze and strengthen international laws protecting the environment during times of conflict.

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For further information on UNEP's environment and legal protection work, please contact Natalie Barefoot, Programme Officer, at: