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The environment is the last thing people think about during a war or a conflict. More often than not, throughout history, environmental degradation is considered only when the impacts of war are felt long after the conflict is over.
For example, during the Vietnam War, the US military used more than 20 million gallons of herbicides as part of their chemical warfare campaign. As a result, the number of bird and mammal species decreased by approximately 75%.
World War II caused widespread destruction on all fronts. Animals, ecosystems, and human lives were damaged, and the effects of the destruction can still be felt today.
Fifteen million tonnes of oil spilt into the Atlantic Ocean during WWII. Traces of oil can still be found in the Atlantic Ocean today.
The Yellow River flood created in 1938 during the Second Sino-Japanese War has been called the most significant act of environmental warfare in history. Its consequences included the destruction of almost all the crops and the soil, which became uncultivable.
During the 20th Century, an estimated 1.6 million metric tonnes of munitions were dumped into the oceans. These weapons release highly toxic substances into the water, endangering marine life and human life.
In recent times, various Middle Eastern conflicts have led to the contamination of water bodies and agricultural lands that further burden the already suffering regions. Also, heavy-duty military vehicles release large amounts of harmful greenhouse gases, further contributing to the environmental costs of war.
The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has been going on for a long time. Still, the recent violence and escalation could have devastating impacts on the environment, mainly because of the environmental sensitivity of these regions.
Ukraine is already a radioactive-dense region, as it is the site of the Chornobyl nuclear plant. Additionally, Ukraine is heavily dependent on nuclear energy to generate its electricity. Eastern Ukraine has many metallurgical plants, chemical factories, and power stations.
“Fighting around these sites risks generating extreme toxic pollution, with severe health impacts worsening the already horrific humanitarian crisis for local people,” said Richard Pearshouse, the head of Crisis and the Environment at Amnesty International, in an email addressed to grist.org.
Ukraine is one of the largest grain exporters globally; it exports more than 40% of its wheat and corn to the Middle East and Africa. Thus, this conflict poses not only an environmental threat but also an economic and food crisis.
Military planning is evolving day by day, and the environment must play a significant role in successful operations, especially after the end of a conflict. In Mozambique, former military combatants have given up their arms and instead have been hired to work as park rangers, protecting the wildlife and natural habitats they once recklessly destroyed.
So we can clearly see that wars have always impacted the environment, and the Ukraine-Russia war is no different. If measures are not taken ASAP, the damage can be unprecedented. Another question that arises is Can Ukraine Hold Russia Accountable For Environmental Crimes?