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UN urges limiting environmental damage in times of war

UN urges limiting environmental damage in times of war

Warning of the consequences war has on the environment, United Nations officials today urged the international community to limit intentional destruction of the natural surroundings during armed conflict.

"While environmental damage is a common consequence of war, it should never be a deliberate aim," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message marking the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

Although international conventions govern nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, new technologies – such as depleted uranium ammunition – threaten the environment, Mr. Annan added. Meanwhile damage to the environment in war also becomes an impediment to restoring peace and rebuilding of society.

For his part, the President of the General Assembly, Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic, called for the protection of resources such as timber, minerals, water, fish and ivory, which are vulnerable to illegal exploitation in conflict situations.

Mr. Kavan also called attention to long-term damage that could be caused by weapons of mass destruction. "Their interaction with living forms threatens to alter the very basis of life as we know it today through mutations or destruction of the genome code," he said.

Describing the environment as the "unpublicized victim of war," the Executive Director of UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, said that although mankind had always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, the environment was a bigger casualty, due to damage done to air, water and land, unregulated plunder of natural resources.

Since 1999, he noted, UNEP had participated in a number of monitoring and assessment missions, including feasibility studies at four sites in Serbia, assessment of the damage caused by the Kosovo conflict and the impact of 600,000 refugees fleeing Sierra Leone and Liberia into Guinea.

UNEP has also dispatched a mission to Afghanistan to pinpoint areas where degradation occurred and is preparing a desk study on the Palestinian Territories, which will identify the priorities for short- and long-term environmental rehabilitation.