Conflict and Environment

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. June 2011 - 18:16
e-learning centre on sustainable development


Heading: Society    Topic: Conflict and environment

War is the antithesis of development, not to mention sustainability. We go to enormous effort to build homes, schools, hospitals and factories, and then use extremely expensive and sophisticated weapons to destroy them again, often with great suffering and loss of life. Apart from the obvious human costs, conflict often precipitates an environmental disaster as well. Toxic chemicals and wastes are spilled, soils are contaminated, natural areas despoiled, and land mines and unexploded munitions render extended areas unuseable.

One example where the environmental impact of conflict has been assessed is Kosovo. The Kosovo conflict did not cause an environmental catastrophe affecting the Balkans region as a whole, but pollution detected at four environmental "hot spots" in Serbia (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor), is serious and poses a threat to human health (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999). Much of the pollution pre-dates the conflict. At Pancevo (industrial complex), the wastewater canal which flows into the Danube is seriously contaminated with 1,2-dichloroethane (EDC) and mercury. There is also a mercury spill at the petrochemical factory. At the Zastava car plant in Kragujevac, there is PCB and dioxin contamination, and significant quantities of poorly-stored hazardous waste. At Novi Sad (oil refinery next to the river Danube) oil product pollution may have contaminated the groundwater/drinking water supplies. At Bor (ore smelting complex), large amounts of sulphur dioxide gas are released into the atmosphere, and there is damaged equipment containing PCB oils. There is no evidence of an ecological disaster for the river Danube as a result of the conflict. Pollution of the Danube sediment and biota is chronic both upstream and downstream of the sites directly affected by the conflict. Protected areas suffered physical damage from air strikes within limited areas, but this is of relatively minor importance when seen in relation to the overall size of the protected areas and the ecosystems which surround the sites which were hit. However, unexploded ordnance is both an immediate safety issue (risk to staff working in protected areas) and a possible long-term constraint to future tourism in and around protected areas. Little information is available on the actual use of Depleted Uranium in the Kosovo conflict, so the risks of eventual contamination cannot presently be evaluated, nor can measures be taken to prevent access to contaminated areas. (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999).


UNEP/UNCHS. 1999. The Kosovo Conflict – Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements. Report of the UNEP/UNCHS Balkans Task Force. United Nations Environment Programme/UNCHS, Nairobi, Kenya, and UNEP News Release 99/112 of 14 October 1999.

Article last updated 26 February 2006

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Last updated 26 February 2006