In Defense of the Environment: Putting Poverty to the Sword by Klaus Toepfer, Exec. Dir.of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
Today, I Weep for My Country... by US Senator Robert Byrd
April 11, 2003

In Defense of the Environment: Putting Poverty to the Sword
by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

A satellite photo shows the blanket of poisonous smoke from oil fires set in hopes of defeating US "smart" bombs. Credit: Digital Globe Photo / color-enhanced by The-Edge
One can easily clean up the language of war -- "collateral damage," "friendly fire," "smart bombs" -- but cleaning up the environmental consequences is a far tougher task.

Undoubtedly it is the loss of human life, the suffering of those made homeless and hungry that must be our first concern. But all too often the impact on the Earth's life support systems is ignored -- and ignored at our peril, as the growing expertise of UNEP's Post Conflict Assessment Unit is suggesting.

Environmental security, both for reducing the threats of war, and in successfully rehabilitating a country following conflict, must no longer be viewed as a luxury but needs to be seen as a fundamental part of a long lasting peace policy.

Few can forget the lakes and pools of petroleum, the TV images of smoke and flames turning day into night, during the 1991 conflict in Kuwait. An estimated 700 wells were damaged, destroyed and sabotaged, triggering pollution of water supplies and the seas, the impact of which is still being felt.

It has been suggested that, as a result of the soot, death rates in Kuwait rose by 10 percent over the following year. The only good news was that the over four million tons of soot and sulfur did not climb higher than 5,000 meters, otherwise there could have been potentially severe dangers to the regional and possibly global climate.

There are many indirect impacts of war on the environment. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which helped inspire an international convention, says that tens of millions of explosives remain scattered around the world in former conflict areas like Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bosnia and on the African Continent.

These are not only horrific hazards for people, maiming and killing returning refugees and local villagers. They effectively bar people from productive land forcing them to clear forests and other precious areas for agriculture with consequences for the fertility of soils, accelerated land degradation and loss of wildlife.

Warring factions and displaced civilian populations can take a heavy toll on natural resources. Decades of civil war in Angola have left its national parks and reserves with only 10 percent of the original wildlife. Sri Lanka's civil war has led to the felling of an estimated five million trees, robbing farmers of income. Many poor people in developing countries critically depend on forests for food and medicines.

Our first principle is the pursuit of peace. Indeed it should not be forgotten that the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to Kofi Annan last year was award not only to the UN Secretary General but to the UN system as a whole.

However, warfare may be justified when all avenues of diplomacy, when all paths of reasonableness have been trod, and exhausted. The struggle to rid Europe and the world from the insanity of fascism, culminating in World War II, was vital. Evil must be confronted at all costs.

But, as the environment and its natural resources are all too often forgotten as the long term casualty of war, then equally their role in triggering the tensions that can spill over into conflict are also too often ignored.

Many conflicts on Continents like Africa have been driven or at the very least fueled by a greed for minerals such as diamonds and oil or timber.

Some individuals and groups can make a fortune under the cloak of an ideologically motivated war. It is estimated that UNITA rebels in Angola made over $ 4 billion from diamonds between 1992 and 2001. The Khmer Rouge was, by the-mid 1990s, making up to $240 million a year from exploiting Cambodia's forests for profit.

As the world's life support systems and natural resources become increasingly scarce, so the possibility of conflict rises. Water, the most precious resource on Earth and crucial for all life, is not evenly shared across the world and between nations. There are 263 river basins, shared by 145 countries. But just 33 nations have more than 95 percent of these rivers within their territories.

By 2032, half the world's population could be living in severely water stressed areas. Daily, 6,000 mainly children die as a result of poor or non-existent sanitation or for want of clean water. It is the equivalent to a quarter of the population of a large capital city like London dying every year.

Unless countries learn to use water wisely, learn to share, there will be instability and there will be tensions of the kind that can precipitate war.

Countering this is sustainable development in action. We have an alliance against terrorism, we need an alliance against poverty and solidarity with the marginalized, we need to defend nature and our natural resources

For little will ever be achieved in terms of conservation of the environment and natural resources if billions of people have no hope, no chance to care.

As Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, observed just before the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), "sustainable development isca security imperative. Poverty, environmental degradation and despair are destroyers of people, of societies, of nations. This unholy trinity can destabilize countries, even entire regions".

The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, agreed at the end of WSSD, is the blue print for reducing poverty and delivering development that lasts, development that fosters a stable environment with social justice.

Making it operational was at the heart of a global environment ministers meeting, UNEP's Governing Council, which took place at our headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, in early February 2003.

We were delighted to be hosting it only weeks after the peaceful Kenyan elections where a new government was swept into power on a wave of optimism. The doom and gloom merchants, sadly all too often right when it comes to African democracy, have been forced to eat their words. I am also delighted that the new Kenyan government has poverty and a healthy environment among their top priorities alongside a fight against corruption.

Like us, they believe that putting poverty to the sword is the peace policy of the 21st century.

So we need above all environment policy as a precautionary peace policy.

Governments are also waking up to the need to rehabilitate the environment if all else fails and conflict occurs. Many are now recognizing that a polluted environment, that contaminated water supplies and sullied land and air, are not a long term recipe for stability.

In 1999, UNEP and its sister, agency UN Habitat, were asked to carry out a post conflict assessment in the Balkans. Shortly afterwards, UNEP carried out a similar exercise in Macedonia and Albania following the Kosovo conflict.

The findings are helping to guide the clean up and restoration of these countries.

We have now also completed an assessment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Afghanistan and these studies were presented to ministers at our February meeting.

I hope the results will not only inform but inspire nations to do more so that the peoples of these troubled lands can have the healthy environment they deserve, the clean air, water and soils needed to deliver growth and prosperity.

But we must go further. There is endless debate before and after a war about the economic costs including the costs of bombs and the costs of humanitarian relief. We need to cost the environmental clean up too.

We have the Geneva Conventions, aimed at safeguarding the rights of prisoners and civilians. We need similar safeguards for the environment. Every effort must be made to limit the environmental destruction, using the environment as a weapon must be universally condemned, must be denounced as an international crime against human-kind, against nature.

Today, I Weep for My Country...
by US Senator Robert Byrd
A Speech delivered on the floor of the US Senate

(March 19, 2003) -- I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today, I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption that is understood by few and feared by many.

We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.

After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.

A War of Choice
The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles -- one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.

But this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "Orange Alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation that ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

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