The head of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today called on warring parties everywhere to stop destroying natural resources - a move which potentially worsens conflicts.
"Across the developing world, including the former Soviet nations, old chemical stockpiles, aging nuclear reactors, damaged factories and other assorted environmental time-bombs are ticking," said Executive Director Klaus Toepfer in a statement ahead of the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, marked on 6 November.
"These scars, threatening water supplies, the fertility of the land and the cleanliness of the air are recipes for instability between communities and neighbouring countries," he added.
Citing a new UNEP report produced in collaboration with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Mr. Toepfer stressed that environmental degradation could undermine local and international security by "reinforcing and increasing grievances within and between societies."
The study finds that a decrepit and declining environment can depress economic activity and diminish the authority of the state in the eyes of its citizens. It also points out that the addressing environmental problems can foster trust among communities and neighbouring countries.
"Joint projects to clean up sites, agreements and treaties to better share resources such as rivers and forests, and strengthening cooperation between the different countries' ministries and institutions may hold the key to building trust, understanding and more stable relations," said the UNEP chief.
In recent years, UNEP has investigated the environmental damage caused by wars in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq and Liberia. Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have requested similar studies of their strife-torn territories.