With United States President Donald Trump arriving in Japan yesterday for an extensive four nation tour of Asia amid the growing conflict with North Korea and the threat of a nuclear war, there is a special significance in today’s United Nation’s International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.
For Sri Lanka, devastated by almost 30 years of war, the day is of special importance at a time when intensive efforts, including the formulation of a new constitution, are underway for reconciliation and a sustainable peace. The war ended in 2009 but more than eight years later we still do not have a just and lasting peace with some defeated political elements and extremist groups trying to again inflame not only a racial conflict but also religious tension.
As Bob Dylan said how many ears must some people have until they can hear the others’ cry, how many deaths will it take till they know that too many people have died? When will we learn, will we ever learn?
The UN says though the people have always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment has often remained the unpublicized victim of war. Water wells have been polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned and animals killed to gain military advantage.
Furthermore, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that during the past 60 years, at least 40 percent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, or high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water. Conflicts involving natural resources have also been found to be twice as likely to relapse.
International Political analysts say that in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other oil rich Middle East areas, the wars are taking place with the aim of taking control of the oil fields being high on the agenda. Some US oil giants have already taken control of Iraq’s main oil fields but their agendas in Afghanistan, Syria and other areas have not worked out largely because of the intervention of Russia and Iran which also have their own political and economic agendas.
"The war ended in 2009 but more than eight years later we still do not have a just and lasting peace with some defeated political elements and extremist groups trying to again inflame not only a racial conflict but also religious tension"
The UN says it attaches great importance to ensuring that action on the environment is part of conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace building strategies - because there can be no durable peace if we see the destruction of the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystems.
On May 27 last year, the UN Environment Assembly adopted a resolution which recognized the role of healthy ecosystems and sustainably managed resources in reducing the risk of armed conflict and reaffirmed its strong commitment to the full implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals of transforming our world.
In Sri Lanka, the focus now is on the Local Council elections likely to be held in late January possibly on a date between January 20 and 31. Latest reports indicate the United National Party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Joint Opposition lead by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna are likely to contest separately. President Sirisena said on Saturday that he was the main target of the political mud from the JO and some extremist groups, he would focus on the sustainable, eco-friendly and all-inclusive economic strategy. We hope the promise will be kept and that other political leaders also, with the 2018 budget being presented on Thursday, will focus not only on local council elections but on a long term national goal such as preventing the exploitation of the environment for war or armed conflict.