In November 2001, the UN General Assembly declared 6 November as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. It acknowledged the role conflict and war has played in the degradation and exploitation of the environment and sought to create awareness about it.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), over the last 60 years a minimum of 40% of internal conflicts have been linked to exploitation of natural resources.  

Conflict has led to the pollution of water, torching of crops and vegetation, cutting down of forests and poisoning of soils. It has also resulted into the killing of animals as a way to earn military advantage.  Such destruction not only drive many of the earth’s species into extinction, it also destabilise the climate.

Read: Getting clear about conflict prevention at the UN

Anti personnel mine in Cambodia. Photo: Reedhawk/Wiki/CC BY-SA 4.0

In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, high value resources such as minerals have caused conflict by being a source of funds for armed groups and by compounding poverty levels in communities in the country and around the region.

The same can be said of Sierra Leone, where diamond and other minerals fuelled conflict.  According to UNEP, this war caused or aggravated many environmental problems.

In observation of the day, the UN insists on the importance of including action plan on the environment as part of conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace-building strategies “because there can be no durable peace if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystems are destroyed”.

Read: The Paris Agreement: What Direction for Africa?

In its policy brief, Assessing and Restoring Natural Resources in Post-Conflict Peace-building, UNEP states that unlocking the potential of natural resources in peacekeeping starts with assessing how the resources contributed to conflict.

It also called for governments and stakeholders to use remediation programs for building environmental awareness as well as restoring damaged or degraded resources as a way of building confidence and supporting peacekeeping strategies.

The protection of the environment is a key component in the Sustainable Development Goals and a resolution adopted in May 2016 by the United Nations Environment Assembly recognising the role healthy ecosystems and sustainably managed resources play in reducing the risk of armed conflict.

This year’s UN Environment Assembly is currently in Nairobi for the sustainable and climate-neutral event that aims to deliver a number of tangible commitments to end pollution in all its forms.