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Environmental Cost of War
With around 5 international conflicts currently taking place over the world, the environmental costs of these wars is totaling up.
The impact of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Ukraine and Syria can be seen not only in the social, economic and political situations of these areas but also in the environments in which these wars have been waged.
Along with the degradation of the natural resources in these countries, the animal and bird populations have also been adversely affected. In recent years, Iraqi medical doctors and health researchers have called for more research on war-related environmental pollution as a potential contributor to the country’s poor health conditions and high rates of infections and diseases.
Water & Soil Pollution:
During the 1991 aerial campaign over Iraq, the US utilized approximately 340 tons of missiles containing depleted uranium (DU). Water and soil may be contaminated by the chemical residue of these weapons, as well as benzene and trichloroethylene from air base operations. Perchlorate, a toxic ingredient in rocket propellant, is one of a number of contaminants commonly found in groundwater around munitions storage sites around the world.
Heavy military vehicles have also disturbed the earth, particularly in Iraq and Kuwait. Combined with drought as a result of deforestation and global climate change, dust has become a major problem exacerbated by the major new movements of military vehicles across the landscape. The U.S. military has focused on the health effects of dust for military personnel serving in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Iraq service members’ exposures to inhaled toxins have correlated with respiratory disorders that often prevent them from continuing to serve and performing everyday activities such as exercise.
Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollution from Military Vehicles:
Even setting aside the accelerated operational tempo of wartime, the Department of Defense has been the country’s single largest consumer of fuel, using about 4.6 billion gallons of fuel each year. Military vehicles consume petroleum-based fuels at an extremely high rate: an M-1 Abrams tank can get just over a half mile on a gallon of fuel per mile or use about 300 gallons during eight hours of operation. Bradley Fighting Vehicles consume about 1 gallon per mile driven.
War accelerates fuel use. By one estimate, the U.S. military used 1.2 million barrels of oil in Iraq in just one month of 2008. This high rate of fuel use over non-wartime conditions has to do in part with the fact that fuel must be delivered to vehicles in the field by other vehicles, using fuel. One military estimate in 2003 was that two-thirds of the Army’s fuel consumption occurred in vehicles that were delivering fuel to the battlefield.
War-Accelerated Destruction and Degradation of Forests and Wetlands:
The wars have also damaged forests, wetlands and marshlands in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Radical deforestation has accompanied this and the previous wars in Afghanistan. Total forest area decreased 38 percent in Afghanistan from 1990 to 2007. This is a result of illegal logging, which is associated with the rising power of the warlords, who have enjoyed U.S. support. In addition, deforestation has occurred in each of these countries as refugees seek out fuel and building materials.
War-Accelerated Wildlife Destruction:
Bombing in Afghanistan and deforestation have threatened an important migratory thoroughfare for birds leading through this area. The number of birds now flying this route has dropped by 85 percent. U.S. bases became a lucrative market for the skins of the endangered Snow Leopard, and impoverished and refugee Afghans have been more willing to break the ban on hunting them, in place since 2002.