Regrettably, war and conflict continue to impact life on our planet. Since the signing of the UN-charter in 1945, armed conflict, civil war and war between nations have spread “untold sorrow” every decade and on most continents. Clearly, efforts to build peace need to continue with undiminished strength. In the meantime, understanding the damage of past wars can help assess likely damage of present conflicts, which in turn provides vital knowledge for effective and targeted mitigation and reconstruction efforts, and for preventing unnecessary ongoing suffering caused by the toxic and dangerous remnants of war.
The environmental impact of war is receiving increased attention from the scientific community. This report presents a rapid review of literature on the environmental impacts of past conflicts, and on consequences for human health. Past conflicts have examples of a multitude of damages and their effects. This report highlights that war-related damage to cities, critical infrastructure, industrial sites, agricultural areas, and sensitive ecosystems causes significant and often devastating impacts on the environment and on human health. The negative consequences of such impacts are often exacerbated by the breakdown of institutions and weak governance. Furthermore, this review has highlighted that explosives left behind as war remnants often continue to kill after conflicts have ceased, making the recovery process in many cases both difficult and dangerous. There are also examples of agriculture being impacted by land mines or unexploded ordnance directly affecting peoples´ livelihoods. The impact on human health comes both through direct and indirect war damage, where civilians and soldiers are killed and hurt during active warfare, but also that the destruction, spills and contamination of the environment causes negative effects on human health long after the war has ended.
The report also presents a snapshot of the damage inflicted on Ukraine´s environment and the potential environmental and public health impacts. The damage reports come from non-verified regular and social media posts and can by no means give a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground. However, it indicates the extent of the damage and potential environmental and human health risks which can help inform priorities for field-level verification work. It is also clear that Ukraine is now facing an environmental crisis that needs dedicated attention to support recovery activities and avoid further human and environmental suffering.