It’s been three months since the Ukraine-Russia war started. After two years in a pandemic, we are now faced with war in European territory. Very few political analysts were able to predict the Russian invasion of February the 24th. By and large, wars are very difficult to predict but so is the aftermath of a war. War can have horrific consequences in people’s lives, the society and the economy; lives are lost, public infrastructure is damaged and millions of jobs are lost as businesses shut down. However, the war repercussions usually don’t stop there. Animals and the environment are as undermined as people.
Animals are the first casualties in a war. Both wild and farmed animals suffer the consequences of human conflict through instability and neglect. Wild animal populations decrease dramatically in war times due to excessive and uncontrollable hunting and habitat loss. During the Sudan civil war from 1983 until 2005 the elephant population declined from 100,000 to 5,000 individuals. The decline in wild animal populations results in biodiversity loss which can cause spiral effects to our ecosystem. Biodiversity is the wide variety of animals, plants and microorganisms and it is essential to all lives on earth as it maintains air quality and food security.
While marine animals are usually far from the centers of military strife, they are threatened by naval exercises. The NRDC’s (Natural Resources Defense Council) Marine Mammal Protection Project showed that US navy exercises conducted last year could cause hearing loss and other hearing problems in marine mammals up to 10 kilometers away from the target. Hearing is vital to marine mammals as it helps them navigate, find food and avoid predators.
Domestic and farmed animals are also largely affected by armed conflicts. As natural resources wane, animal food becomes scarce. This not only threatens animal life but also jeopardizes human food and nutrition. These animals also suffer the consequences of neglect and in some cases, like the example provided next, landmines. During the Afghanistan war in the 90s more than half of farmed animals died from landmines. While the majority of landmines are eradicated throughout the world, landmines continue to take human and animal lives through this day. The United Nations prohibits the use of landmines as they are inhumane and difficult to clear once planted.
Zoo animals are perhaps in the worst situation of all. These animals have traveled far from their natural habitat or were born outside of it. During a war, zoos lack visitors which are important as they sustain the zoo financially. Hence, as inflows diminish, zoo animals get neglected which often leads to starvation and death. In the two years of the Gulf War 85% of the animals in the Kuwait zoo died.
Flora and the environment
Armed conflicts have serious ramifications to nature and the environment. The use of military weapons produces large amounts of greenhouse gasses, which intensifies pollution and contributes to climate change. Greenhouse gasses stay in the atmosphere for many years after being released, affecting the climate conditions for a long time. Years of war and armed conflicts in Iraq resulted in the destruction of public infrastructure for health and water, and polluted the atmosphere. The sand particles in Iraq still carry toxic substances that travel through the air.
World peace is a prerequisite to achieve Net Zero by 2050. This refers to the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. In other words, emissions produced by anthropogenic activities have to be reduced or removed in order to stop global warming. Armed conflicts can delay countries’ goals to go Net Zero, not only because of the high emissions a war produces but also because during wars, countries focus on more urgent issues like people’s safety and the economy. Several analysts have suggested that the war in Ukraine will delay the implementation of the Paris Agreement for climate change. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty to fight climate change, the agreement was signed by 196 countries in 2015.
Agriculture is also heavily affected by military actions which, once again, jeopardize people’s health and nutrition. As labour availability reduces, the production of agricultural products declines. Risks to global food security come into question if the country in conflict is an exporter of agricultural products, not only due to lower production but also because domestic consumption will be prioritized. Suspension of port operations and limited access to ports hampers further a country’s ability to export agricultural products.
The war in Ukraine is disrupting the global grain production as both Russia and Ukraine are powerhouses in the grains complex. Ukraine is expected to harvest much less grains this year than last due to the conflict disruptions but the country has also moved to ban grain exports with the intention of preserving its own food supplies. Exports are also difficult for the food exporter due to Russia’s presence in the Black Sea. Russia is a big producer of fertilizers which increases input costs for the production of agricultural products. As a result, grain production is at risk and grain prices are expected to spike which will then affect global food prices.
To conclude, warfare can have profound consequences on the environment, which then can cause spiral effects to people’s lives. Countless animal lives are lost, agriculture is hampered and the whole ecosystem is threatened. However, it’s not entirely possible to fully measure and predict the impacts of a war on a country and its people. In times like these, we are again reminded that peace is a core foundation to human civilization.
Director of Funding & Development HICD-UK