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The Impact Of War and Weapons On Humans And The Environment

Examples Of Environmental Damage

Sri Lanka

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Years of civil war in Sri Lanka led to the felling of over 5 million trees and serious environmental degradation. Between 1956 and 1985, natural high forests decreased from 44% to 27% of the total land area. Most of the deforested area has been converted into low productivity grasslands. Both sides fortified themselves by building bunkers, defence lines and camps for soldiers. Trees were cut to build thousands of bunkers and for firewood. Government troops moved ahead along the Colombo-Jaffna highway pushing the Tamils back. Bulldozers followed the infantry and artillery units, clearing 500 metres (over a quarter mile) on both sides of the road. All houses and trees were flattened so that the soldiers deployed in the area could have a clear view. During the military offensive over 5 million trees, including 2.5 million palmyrah trees, were uprooted. Palmyrah trees help to retain water in the soil, and being the tallest trees in the region, they act as wind breaks and prevent wind erosion. As a result, a crucial resource for farmers and villagers has been depleted.


After 25 years of civil war, which ended with a peace agreement signed in April 2002, Angola’s parks and reserves have been reduced to just 10% of their 1975 wildlife population levels. This has been the result of a combination of deforestation, habitat loss, and soldiers hunting for food and poaching for tusks. Elephants, black rhinos, and buffalos are among those which have been slaughtered for these purposes. Poaching is an increasingly attractive pursuit for guerrilla fighters who use it as a way to generate income for the purchase of weapons and other equipment. Angola’s national wildlife reserves were abandoned throughout the conflict, and the countryside has been virtually depopulated. Of note is the giant sable antelope, a national symbol of Angola.


There is speculation that the populations of cranes, pelicans and other migratory birds were affected by US air strikes on Afghanistan. The birds migrate from Siberia and other central Asian states through to Pakistan, which has reported a record low number of incoming birds. Bombing and troop activities are thought to have driven the birds away from their usual travel route, causing them to die of exhaustion or starvation.


As well as being a consequence of war, the destruction of the environment has been used as an instrument of war. An example of this was Josef Stalin’s Scorched Earth policy in the Ukraine during the Second World War. The aim was to ensure that there was no sustenance for the invading German army. More recently, in the 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraqi forces were responsible for the destruction of over 700 oil wells, and 10 million gallons of crude oil were spilled into the nation’s waterways and deserts. The environmental repercussions of these actions were felt long afterwards, both locally and in more distant places - there is speculation that the severe 1994 cyclone in Bangladesh was a result of climatic changes caused by the Kuwait oil fires. In the same war, the US caused significant environmental damage through the destruction of factories containing toxic chemicals, resulting in the pollution of the water supply and sanitation systems.

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