Armed Conflicts, Environmental Pollution and the Urgent Call to uphold Human Rights: Solidarity Actions at the UN Environment Assembly

Nairobi – 24 February 2024

Solidarity actions at the UN Environmental Assembly

There is a terrible trend in the increasing number of armed conflicts. 2023 marked a shocking total of 183 conflicts. Governments are making a mockery of international law. They are failing to prevent and halt the attacks on civilians, the devastation of entire cities and regions (e.g. Mariupol, Gaza) and the destruction of the environment. 

Therefore, WECF and other members of the ‘Women’s Major Group’ (WMG) to the United Nations Environment Programme, are addressing impacts from armed conflicts ahead of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA6) taking place in Nairobi, Kenya from 26 of February till 1st of March 2024. 

Solidarity with people living under armed conflict and violence

Currently, the 190+ Member States of the United Nations are negotiating new resolutions, including a critical one on “environmental assistance and recovery in areas affected by armed conflicts”, submitted by Ukraine (UNEP/OECPR.6/L.3). WECF, together with the WMG, and four other Major Groups, have petitioned the UN to organise a moment of silent solidarity during the high-level segment of the UNEA6. During the Global Forum for Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (GMGSF)  which WECF is co-organising together with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and The WMG, speakers from Palestine, Ukraine and Sudan are joining the opening plenary to share their call for a halt of the aggressions and destruction of their communities, and reaffirming and applying international law.

Photo credit: Natasha Dokovska 2024. Photo Caption: Solidarity speech by Mariam Al Jaajaa, Arab Group for the Protection of Nature, at the Global Major Group and Stakeholder Forum

We need urgent measures for the protection of civilians. We urge for utmost efforts by all Member States to halt conflicts, in particular an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, protection of the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank, and the release of all hostages. The massive destruction of Gaza by the government of Israel has killed approximately 28,000 people, of which more than 11,500 children under 18 years, another 24,000 children have been orphaned. UN Women reports that “two mothers are killed each hour in Gaza conflict”. If the Israeli government proceeds with a ground attack on Rafah, unimaginable violence will befall the 1,4 million people refugees from the rest of the Gaza strip. If you as an individual want to support the plea for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, consider signing for example this petition.

This day, the 24th of February, marks the second anniversary of Russia’s terrible war against Ukraine. A war that has caused over 30.000 civilian casualties, as well as widespread gender-based and sexual violence, including rape. Kyiv has also documented at least 20.000 child abductions by Russia.

Also in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, some 3 million people face hunger due to the impacts of the past conflict, and in Sudan many people have been subject to sexual abuse and rape as a result of the war, with as many as 12,000 people killed thusfar. Similar horrible conflicts are taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Myanmar and other regions.

These immediate catastrophes lead to lasting damage to the surviving populations’ mental and physical health, including due to impacts from environmental pollution (water, soil, food, air, climate). These impacts are gender specific. For example, women and girls in all their diversity are almost always the ones responsible for collecting water. Water is a vital resource that is under immense pressure due to climate change, conflict and pollution, meaning that women and girls will have to spend an increasing amount of hours collecting it.

“Environmental assistance and recovery in areas affected by armed conflicts”

There is strong support from the WMG and other civil society groups for the draft resolution ‘environmental assistance and recovery in areas affected by armed conflicts’ (UNEP/OECPR.6/L.3). The resolution refers globally to all regions and communities affected by armed conflict, and is therefore highly relevant in view of the wars and armed conflicts raging in Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, Myanmar, DRC and many other regions.

The draft resolution recognizes that armed conflict can lead to severe pollution, impacting communities and making them more vulnerable to environmental damage and climate change. For example, the destruction of entire towns in Gaza and Ukraine results in highly toxic dust, containing chrysotile asbestos. Asbestos kills, slowly but surely, through cancers such as mesothelioma. Additionally, there are huge risks of nuclear disasters (fighting at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant) and pollution from ammunition (including containing depleted uranium). For Ukraine, a first assessment of damages and costs of Russia’s war on Ukraine has been published.

The draft Ukraine resolution urges UN Member States to adhere to international law, to minimize damage and to oblige aggressor States to cover the costs of full reparation of the damage. It also calls for developing standards for data gathering on the severity and economic losses related to conflict-induced environmental pollution and damage. The draft resolution asks Member States to engage all stakeholders in monitoring the environmental dimensions of armed conflict. We urge for the necessity of the adoption of a strong resolution to address environmental pollution and emissions from armed conflict at UNEA6.

Photo credit: Natasha Dokovska 2024. Photo Caption: the Global Major Group and Stakeholder Forum, 24 February 2024