SG/SM/10696 OBV/587
03 November 2006

Secretary-General's Message for International Day for Prevention of Environmental Damage During Armed Conflict

NEW YORK, 25 October (UN Headquarters) --This is the text of the message by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mark the observance, on 6 November, of the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict:

Whatever its justifications, war brings unspeakable horror to combatants and civilians alike and can destroy in minutes what has sometimes taken generations to achieve.  Beyond the human suffering it causes, war is also devastating for the environment.

The past year has given us yet another tragic example.  Among the consequences of the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah was the release of up to 15,000 tons of fuel oil from the Jiyyeh power station south of Beirut, affecting about 150 kilometres of the Lebanese and Syrian coastline, polluting beaches and coastal waters and damaging fishing and tourism operations.

In recent years, an increasing number of Governments have asked the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to conduct post-conflict environmental assessments.  A team is currently assessing the environmental impact of the conflict in Lebanon, and others are working closely with the Governments of Sudan and Iraq.

In Sudan, UNEP's preliminary findings indicate widespread and severe environmental degradation in much of the country, especially related to desertification and deforestation.  In Darfur, environmental degradation, resource competition and regional climate change are major underlying causes of food insecurity and conflict.

In Iraq, the draining of the marshlands of the Euphrates/Tigris Delta during the 1980s and 1990s provides a classic example of the deliberate targeting of an ecosystem to achieve political and military ends.  UNEP is helping the Government of Iraq to restore and manage the marshlands, and to rehabilitate the country's environment and its environmental management infrastructure.

The International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict was established by the General Assembly to highlight the environmental consequences of war and the importance of neither exploiting nor heedlessly damaging ecosystems in the pursuit of military objectives.  Sometimes, such damage is unavoidable.  But often, with a little care or forethought, such damage can be averted.

Parties engaged in hostilities have a responsibility to observe international rules and agreements, such as the Geneva Conventions, that govern the conduct of war.  Some of these rules, such as a prohibition of the deliberate destruction of agricultural land, have an environmental emphasis.  But, by and large, the environmental consequences of war are overlooked by contemporary laws.  It is high time that we review international agreements related to war and armed conflict to ensure that they also cover deliberate and unintentional damage to the environment.

On this International Day, let us recognize the threat that war poses to the foundation of all our sustainable development objectives -- and let us pledge to do more about it.

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