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    Briefing paper: Recommendations for addressing conflict pollution at UNEA-3

    The Toxic Remnants of War Network is a civil society network working to reduce the humanitarian and environmental impact of pollution generated by conflict and military activities. The Network supports the development of a stronger standard of environmental and civilian protection before, during and after armed conflict and was founded in 2015 by Article 36, Green Cross International, IALANA, Norwegian People’s Aid, PAX and the Toxic Remnants of War Project. www.trwn.org @TRWNetwork [email protected]

    INTRodUcTIoNThis briefing for delegations explains why pollution caused or exacerbated by armed conflicts must be addressed

    by States during UNEA-3. The briefing proposes five areas where States and international organisations should

    make commitments for further action to help minimise the generation of toxic remnants of war, and their impact

    on human health and the environment. The briefing has been prepared by the Toxic Remnants of War Network,

    NGOs from the fields of the environment and humanitarian disarmament advocating for a greater standard of

    environmental protection before, during and after armed conflicts.

    ABoUT coNflIcT pollUTIoNArmed conflicts generate pollution; they create and

    sustain the conditions that allow polluting practices

    to flourish, and they severely degrade the capacity of

    national authorities to address health and environ-

    mental threats.1

    These problems affect conflicts globally, and are driven

    in part by increasing industrialisation and the trend

    towards conflicts in and around urban and industri-

    al areas. Together, these factors are contributing to a

    growing risk to civilians and ecosystems from the toxic

    remnants of war.

    Conflict pollution takes many forms. At its most

    extreme, it can be the result of deliberate scorched

    1. For more information on toxic remnants of war see: Weir, D (2017) Conflict pollution and the toxic remnants of war: a global problem that receives too little attention, Perspectives 24, UN Environment: http://www.unep.org/about/majorgroups/perspectives-no-24

    earth tactics, such as the targeting of oil wells.2 More

    commonly, and where fighting occurs in industrialised

    areas, damage to infrastructure such as petrochemical

    installations or waste storage facilities may be suffi-

    cient to trigger acute environmental emergencies.3

    In urban areas, the co-mingling of factories and resi-

    dential properties can create the conditions where hot

    spots of pollution pose direct threats to communities

    following the use of explosive weapons. Such threats

    can also emerge through damage to essential services,

    such as water, sewage and electricity production facili-

    2. BBC (2017) Desert on fire - the families surrounded by smoke and flames visible from space http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/desert_on_fire

    3. See for example, UNOCHA (2017) Statement to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine New York, February 2017: https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/ERC_USG%20Stephen%20OBrien%20Statement%20on%20UKRAINE%20to%20SecCo%2002FEB2017.pdf

  • 2

    ties and distribution networks.4

    Urban conflicts produce vast quantities of rubble and

    waste, waste that may contain hazardous materials

    such as asbestos or munitions residues. Inappropriate-

    ly disposing of such material can leave a legacy of con-

    tamination.5 The collapse in waste management asso-

    ciated with conflicts is commonly associated with an

    increase in harmful disposal practices such as dump-

    ing, burning, informal landfills and the uncontrolled

    mixing of residential, pharmaceutical and hazardous

    wastes. Poor waste management also encourages the

    spread of communicable diseases.6

    The immediate remnants of military operations also

    create pollution risks. Threats from the toxic constit-

    uents of munitions, such as heavy metals and explo-

    sives, can be widespread but particularly acute where

    military facilities have operated or have been dam-

    aged.7 Destroyed or abandoned military materiel is

    rarely managed effectively; nor is the waste or opera-

    tional pollution generated by military operations.8

    These myriad sources of pollution typically occur at a

    time when the capacity of the state to manage them

    appropriately is at its weakest. National environmen-

    tal authorities may lose access to affected areas, or in

    those cases where capacity existed prior to the conflict,

    it may be lost through under-resourcing or the loss of

    personnel. More often than not, the problems are of a

    magnitude far beyond that which can be handled by

    4. See for example, Zwijnenburg, W (2017) Water Filtration Plants and Risks of a Chlorine Mass-Casualty Event in Donetsk: https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/case-studies/2017/03/10/water-filtration-plants-risks-chlorine-mass-casualty-event-donetsk/

    5. The 2006 conflict in Lebanon is thought to have generated 5.75 million m3 of demolition waste. See, A. Tamer Chammas (2012) Restoration of damaged land in societies recovering from conflict: The case of Lebanon. In Assessing and Restoring Natural Resources in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: http://www.environmentalpeacebuilding.org/assets/Documents/LibraryItem_000_Doc_069.pdf

    6. Solid waste management was a recognised problem in Syria before the conflict began. Although domestic waste was generally collected, landfills were uncovered, waste often burned in open pits and hazardous waste was not separated. See for example, ICRC (2013) Syria: Breakdown of services increases suffering: https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/update/2013/08-26-syria-water-health-assistance.htm

    7. See for example, UNEP (2006) Ground contamination assessment report, military waste storage site, Astana, Afghanistan: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/afghanistan_cont.pdf

    8. US Institute of Medicine (2011) Long-Term Health Consequences of Exposure to Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The National Academies Press doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/13209

    the authorities’ pre-existing capacity.

    The diminution of governance has knock on effects

    for a range of environmental issues, be they on imple-

    menting international obligations on toxics and waste,

    ensuring the security of borders to prevent illicit waste

    shipments, oversight of industrial emissions or the

    collation of pollution data vital for identifying public

    health risks. Weak governance during conflicts is also

    associated with the growth of environmentally hazard-

    ous coping strategies by the civilian population, such

    as large-scale artisanal oil refining.9

    By necessity, public health responses during and after

    conflicts focus on addressing acute threats; when

    coupled with the disruption to environmental govern-

    ance and often persistent insecurity, the end result of

    this unavoidable prioritisation is that determining the

    negative health outcomes linked to conflict pollution

    is particularly complex. Moreover, delayed or incom-

    plete environmental data collection ensures that, even

    where health outcomes are studied, identifying the

    causal links to exposures is difficult.

    The international community is increasingly aware of

    the linkages between human and ecosystem health

    and pollution.10 Yet conflict pollution remains under-

    addressed in both the global discourse on efforts to

    tackle pollution, and in effective policy measures.

    UNEA-3 will see States, the private sector and civil soci-

    ety commit to measures to address the health and envi-

    ronmental impact of pollution. The severity, and often

    lasting impact of pollution caused or exacerbated by

    armed conflicts makes it imperative that commitments

    to address conflict pollution be included in the UNEA-3

    Ministerial Declaration.

    The following cases are intended to highlight the diver-

    sity of conflict pollution sources and are followed by

    recommendations for themes that should be consid-

    ered for inclusion as an outcome for UNEA-3.

    9. PAX (2016) Scorched earth and charred lives. Human health and environmental risks of civilian operated makeshift oil refineries in Syria: https://www.paxforpeace.nl/stay-informed/news/syrias-backyard-oil-industry

    10. WHO (2016) Preventing disease through healthy environments - A global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/204585/1/9789241565196_eng.pdf?ua=1

  • Three decades of conflict and insecurity in Iraq have caused direct pollution and impacted environmental governance. oil facilities and industrial infrastructure have been repeatedly targeted during conflicts, creating serious pollution hotspots. Most recently, Islamic State set a sulphur factory alight in northern Iraq, as well as 19 oil wells, some of which burned for eight months, polluting air, agricultural land and watercourses. Damage from intense fighting in and around towns and cities such as Mosul has affected environmentally sensitive sites, such as factories housing hazardous materials and critical infrastructure.

    Iraq

    3

    pollution has been intimately linked to the conflict in colombia and efforts to address it must form part of the peace process. During the last 35 years, attacks on oil infrastructure have caused 4.1m barrels of oil to be spilled – the equivalent of 16 Exxon Valdez disasters. Meanwhile the use of aerial defoliant spraying has been widespread to combat poppy and coca fields, and the massive growth in illegal gold mining facilitated by the conflict has made Colombia the world’s second largest emitter of mercury.

    colombia

    The scars from illegal gold mining. Credit: UNEP

    Oil fires over Qayyarah, Iraq. Credit: Credit: © Matt Cetti-Roberts/Frontlinepictures.com

  • Industrial and military facilities are among many environmentally sensitive sites that have been attacked or damaged in populated areas in Syria. The targeting of gas and oil infrastructure has resulted in localised pollution, and encouraged the growth of artisanal oil refineries, which pose severe health risks to their civilian operators and communities. Damage to power plants, sewage treatment and water facilities is likely to have resulted in localised pollution risks and must be mapped to focus remediation efforts. With 50% of urban areas destroyed or heavily damaged, the inadequate management of conflict rubble poses immediate and long-term threats to human health and the environment.

    Syria

    Ukraine’s long-running conflict in its donbas region is being fought in a heavily industrialised area with pre-existing and serious pollution problems. It has seen numerous deliberate and accidental attacks on chemical and metallurgical industry sites, often in close proximity to populated areas, with an ongoing risk of chemical emergencies from damage to water facilities and waste stores. Power loss and the abandonment of mines has led to widespread groundwater contamination from mine effluent, impacting water supplies and rivers. Meanwhile, illegal waste dumping has increased due to the collapse in environmental governance.

    Ukraine

    4

    A direct attack on Donetsk State Factory of Chemical Products. Credit: Evgeniy Nadiyarniy

    10-year-old Krahim splashes crude oil on a rudimentary refinery tank, Deir ez-Zor. Credit Jean-René Augé-Napoli.

  • 5

    REcommENdATIoNS States wishing to support progress towards minimis-

    ing the health and environmental impact of conflict

    pollution should consider promoting the following

    five themes for inclusion in UNEA-3’s Ministerial Dec-

    laration and other UNEA-3 outputs.

    1. Strengthen standards to prevent military and conflict pollution

    Preventing the generation of conflict pollution first

    requires the more effective implementation of the

    laws protecting the environment in relation to armed

    conflict. UNEA-2’s resolution on the Protection of the

    environment in areas affected by armed conflict should

    be viewed as a starting point upon which to build and

    governments should support and encourage efforts to

    progressively develop standards that provide greater

    protection for both civilians, and for and the environ-

    ment they depend on.

    Governments should commit to raising standards

    across the cycle of conflicts. This should include reduc-

    ing pollution during military training, and preparing

    vulnerable industries and emergency measures prior

    to conflicts; preventing damage to industrial, power

    and water facilities and minimising environmentally

    harmful military practices during conflicts; ensur-

    ing that effective environmental assistance policies

    are properly resourced, and that the mechanisms to

    implement them are fully integrated into post-conflict

    planning.

    2. Enhance structural monitoring of pollution risks during conflicts

    The rapid identification of serious pollution risks

    resulting from conflicts is vital to protect human health

    and the environment. However at present, months and

    years may pass between incidents and formal post-

    conflict environmental assessments, resulting in data

    gaps that constrain risk assessments, limit harm reduc-

    tion measures and reduce the visibility of environmen-

    tal problems. Similarly, post-conflict assessments only

    provide a snapshot of conditions at the time of the

    assessment and may not identify changes over time.

    These factors have serious implications for the protec-

    tion of public health.

    At present, remote monitoring during conflicts is

    undertaken informally by international organisa-

    tions, increasingly with assistance from civil society.

    To help mitigate the risks that conflict pollutants pose

    to human health and the environment, the interna-

    tional community should support efforts to develop a

    more formal system within the humanitarian response

    framework.

    The system should include the early identification and

    monitoring of potentially hazardous incidents and

    practices; it should facilitate the involvement of experts

    on environmental and human health risk assess-

    ments; it should ensure that data is shared among

    relevant humanitarian actors in a timely manner; and

    that context appropriate practices for responding to

    particular hazards are developed and implemented.

    Governments, international organisations and civil

    society should also collaborate to develop innovative

    methodologies for collecting interim field data on con-

    flict pollution, both to complement remote monitoring

    techniques and help inform later post-conflict assess-

    ments.

    3. properly resource mechanisms providing urgent environmental assistance While there are international assistance mechanisms

    in place for States affected by severe wartime pollution

    incidents, these are ad hoc, subject to donor interest

    and the political context of individual conflicts, and

    often under-resourced. Because many pollutants can

    migrate over time, increasing exposure risks and lead-

    ing to higher eventual remediation costs, it is vital that

    incidents are addressed promptly.

    Governments should review whether the current sys-

    tems of environmental assistance are sufficient to

    ensure the protection of the environment, natural

    resources and the rights of affected communities from

  • 6

    conflict pollution. States that have been affected by

    conflict pollution should facilitate and support the

    work of international organisations and civil society in

    collecting data on pollution threats and in identifying

    and implementing harm reduction measures.

    4. commit to long-term post-conflict projects to remediate polluted areasAddressing pollution in post-conflict settings can be a

    lengthy process but one that can also provide oppor-

    tunities for public-private partnerships and national

    capacity building. Aside from the direct humanitarian

    and environmental imperative to assess and remedi-

    ate sites, projects can help build confidence in nation-

    al authorities by addressing the concerns of affected

    communities, and help support the development of

    more sustainable industrial technologies. They can

    also help boost environmental attention and catalyse

    public environmental awareness.

    Assessment and remediation projects should meet

    international guidelines and, where necessary, robust

    risk analysis used to identify priority sites. Wherever

    possible, projects should be designed to boost local

    employment and should ensure meaningful commu-

    nity involvement throughout their lifespan.

    However, such projects can take many years to insti-

    gate and complete and may not be completed if donor

    attention and interest wanes. Governments should

    therefore commit to ensure that long-term funding is

    available for programmes aimed at addressing pollu-

    tion hotspots in post-conflict settings. This should be

    done through post-conflict reconstruction projects,

    such as those normally established by the World Bank.

    Governments of States affected by conflict pollution

    should commit to policies which ensure that address-

    ing contaminated sites is a priority.

    5. Encourage closer collaboration on public health and conflict pollutionConflict pollution has serious consequences for human

    health, blocking safe access to resources that are indis-

    pensable for the survival of the civilian population.

    Addressing the acute health impacts of conflicts will

    always be prioritised, but this doesn’t preclude meas-

    ures to integrate practices that can help to also identify

    longer term health outcomes linked to exposures. The

    impact of conflict pollution can be long-lasting, con-

    tinuing to affect communities long after international

    attention has moved on.

    While post-conflict environmental assessments can

    highlight acute and chronic risks to health from pol-

    lutants, more concerted effort is needed to follow up

    assessments with research aimed at identifying expo-

    sures and health outcomes, and in the provision of

    medical assistance to those affected. Progress towards

    this objective will require closer and deeper collabora-

    tion between the health, environmental and humani-

    tarian communities, those affected by conflict pollu-

    tion, and national authorities.

    Tackling conflict pollution in this way should be a

    standard component of peacebuilding programmes;

    particularly where projects can help mitigate local

    grievances towards local and national authorities in

    situations where affected communities are concerned

    over the health risks arising from contamination.

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1 Briefing paper: Recommendations for addressing conflict pollution at UNEA-3 The Toxic Remnants of War Network is a civil society network working to reduce the humanitarian and environmental impact of pollution generated by conflict and military activities. The Network supports the development of a stronger standard of environmental and civilian protection before, during and after armed conflict and was founded in 2015 by Article 36, Green Cross International, IALANA, Norwegian People’s Aid, PAX and the Toxic Remnants of War Project. www.trwn.org @TRWNetwork [email protected] INTRODUCTION This briefing for delegations explains why pollution caused or exacerbated by armed conflicts must be addressed by States during UNEA-3. The briefing proposes five areas where States and international organisations should make commitments for further action to help minimise the generation of toxic remnants of war, and their impact on human health and the environment. The briefing has been prepared by the Toxic Remnants of War Network, NGOs from the fields of the environment and humanitarian disarmament advocating for a greater standard of environmental protection before, during and after armed conflicts. ABOUT CONFLICT POLLUTION Armed conflicts generate pollution; they create and sustain the conditions that allow polluting practices to flourish, and they severely degrade the capacity of national authorities to address health and environ- mental threats. 1 These problems affect conflicts globally, and are driven in part by increasing industrialisation and the trend towards conflicts in and around urban and industri- al areas. Together, these factors are contributing to a growing risk to civilians and ecosystems from the toxic remnants of war. Conflict pollution takes many forms. At its most extreme, it can be the result of deliberate scorched 1. For more information on toxic remnants of war see: Weir, D (2017) Conflict pollution and the toxic remnants of war: a global problem that receives too little attention, Perspectives 24, UN Environment: http://www. unep.org/about/majorgroups/perspectives-no-24 earth tactics, such as the targeting of oil wells. 2 More commonly, and where fighting occurs in industrialised areas, damage to infrastructure such as petrochemical installations or waste storage facilities may be suffi- cient to trigger acute environmental emergencies. 3 In urban areas, the co-mingling of factories and resi- dential properties can create the conditions where hot spots of pollution pose direct threats to communities following the use of explosive weapons. Such threats can also emerge through damage to essential services, such as water, sewage and electricity production facili- 2. BBC (2017) Desert on fire - the families surrounded by smoke and flames visible from space http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/ desert_on_fire 3. See for example, UNOCHA (2017) Statement to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine New York, February 2017: https:// docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/ERC_USG%20Stephen%20 OBrien%20Statement%20on%20UKRAINE%20to%20SecCo%20 02FEB2017.pdf
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