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The Earth does not belong to us: we belong to the Earth

2 November 2023 12:20 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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With armed conflicts raging in the Middle East and in the war between Russia and Ukraine, we need to ponder deeply on the reflections of the United Nations on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. 
Even Sri Lanka was severely affected by this during the 30-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other terror groups.
The war left hundreds of thousands of people dead or injured while the economic or environmental damage was incalculable. This has led to a crisis from which we are still struggling to recover with President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Government depending largely on a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other countries.
In a statement to mark this international day on November 6, the UN says though humanity has 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 last 60 years, about 40 percent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether 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.
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 the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystems are destroyed.


On November 5, 2001, in a resolution the UN General Assembly declared November 6 of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict On May 27, 2016, 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 listed in General Assembly resolution 70/1, entitled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
Six United Nations agencies and departments coordinated by the UN Framework Team for Preventive Action, have partnered with the European Union (EU) to help countries identify, prevent and transform tensions over natural resources as part of conflict prevention and peace-building programmes.
The Environmental Law Institute (ELI), the UNEP, and the Universities of Tokyo and McGill initiated a global research programme to collect lessons learned and good practices on managing natural resources during post-conflict peace-building.
This four-year research project has yielded more than 150 peer-reviewed case studies by more than 230 scholars, practitioners and decision-makers from 55 countries. This represents the most significant collection to date of experiences, analyses and lessons in managing natural resources to support post-conflict peace-building.
The UNEP, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equity and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) have established a partnership to collaborate on improving the understanding of the complex relationship between women and natural resources in conflict-affected settings, and make the case for pursuing gender equality, women’s empowerment and sustainable natural resource management together in support of peacebuilding. The first outcome of the collaboration is a joint policy report released on November 6, 2013.


Saving future generations from the scourge of war was the main motivation for creating the United Nations, whose founders lived through the devastation of two world wars. Since its creation, the UN has often been called upon to prevent disputes from escalating into war, to help restore peace following the outbreak of armed conflict, and to promote lasting peace in societies emerging from wars.
As native American leader Chief Seattle says the earth does not belong to us: we belong to the earth. Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist who featured frequently as an author and speaker in the mass media during the 1960s and the 1970s, has said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


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