15 Major Environmental Impacts of War

When weighed against the negative effects of armed conflict on society and the human race, the effects of war on ecosystems and natural resources are frequently ignored.

However, the environmental impacts of war go beyond national borders and the lives of the present generation. Armed conflicts can also harm the environment and the populations that rely on its natural resources.

They can have both direct and indirect negative effects on the environment, and the dissolution of institutions can raise threats to the environment that could affect people’s security, well-being, and means of subsistence. Consequently, peacebuilding during the post-conflict phase may be weakened.

Resolution UNEP/EA.2/Res.15, which acknowledged the importance of sustainably managed resources and healthy ecosystems in lowering the danger of armed conflict, was adopted by the United Nations Environment Assembly on May 27, 2016, and reiterated its unwavering dedication to seeing the Sustainable Development Goals through to completion.

This kind of worry is evident nowadays amid the conflict in Ukraine. Tens of thousands of people have died, millions have been displaced, and extensive environmental damage has resulted from the battle.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partners conducted a preliminary assessment of the crisis in Ukraine last year, and the results indicate a poisonous legacy for future generations.

The UNEP reports that the fighting has caused damage in many parts of the nation, including mines, industrial sites, agro-processing facilities, drilling platforms, nuclear power plants, and energy infrastructure such as oil storage tankers, oil refineries, and distribution pipelines.

Multiple instances of air pollution and possibly dangerous surface and groundwater contamination have been the result. Significant damage has also been done to the water infrastructure, which includes sewage facilities, purification plants, and pumping stations.

Several sizable livestock farms have reportedly been targeted, and the carcasses of the animals there represent an additional risk to human health. Explosions in agro-industrial storage facilities can leak hazardous materials, such as nitric acid plants and fertilizer.

The cleanup of demolished houses will present unique difficulties in many metropolitan locations since the rubble may contain dangerous items. Additionally, fire activity in numerous nature reserves, protected regions, and forested areas has significantly increased, according to satellite images.

Massive amounts of military debris, including wrecked military vehicles, and the pollution from the widespread use of weapons in civilian areas create a significant clean-up task as well.

Environmental Impacts of War

War has far-reaching and frequently catastrophic effects on the environment, altering natural resources, human health, and ecosystems. This is a detailed synopsis:

  • Soil Contamination
  • Water Pollution
  • Air Pollution
  • Waste Incineration
  • Intentional Flooding
  • Climate Change
  • Displacement of Populations
  • Natural Resource Depletion
  • Nuclear Contamination
  • Deforestation
  • Impact on Wildlife
  • Humanitarian and Environmental Disasters
  • Landmines and Unexploded Ordnance
  • Collapse of Environmental Governance
  • Environmental Cost of Recovery

1. Soil Contamination

The use of explosives, poisons, and heavy metal-containing weaponry can contaminate soil, reducing its fertility and posing long-term dangers to ecosystems and agriculture.

2. Water Pollution

Water contamination can arise from war-related releases of dangerous materials, oil spills, and infrastructure devastation. Ecosystems and human populations are at serious risk from contaminated water sources.

3. Air Pollution

Air pollution is a result of military actions, explosive explosions, and building burning. These events send pollutants into the atmosphere. Both civilians and service members may suffer grave health consequences as a result of this.

4. Waste Incineration

During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of the twenty-first century, human excrement was burned in open pits with munitions, plastic, electronics, paint, and other substances at U.S. facilities. Some soldiers who were exposed to the toxic smoke may have suffered injuries.

5. Intentional Flooding

Flooding can be used to enforce the “scorched earth” doctrine by utilizing water to subjugate land. It can also be applied to stop enemy fighters from moving. Dams on the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers were breached to stop the Japanese army’s progress during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The dykes were breached to stop the advance of Spanish forces during the Siege of Leiden in 1573. During Operation Chastise in World War II, the Royal Air Force attacked the dams on the Eder and Sorpe rivers in Germany, flooding a large area and halting German industrial output that was vital to the war effort.

6. Climate Change

Climate change is a result of war’s environmental effects. Burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and the release of greenhouse gases during hostilities all contribute to changes in climate patterns.

Numerous studies have revealed a substantial positive relationship between higher greenhouse gas emissions and military spending, with the Global North’s (i.e., OECD-developed countries) countries seeing a greater effect from military spending on carbon emissions. Accordingly, the US military is thought to be the world’s largest user of fossil fuels.

Furthermore, there are significant environmental discharges from military operations. Maureen Sullivan, the director of environment, safety, and occupational health at the Pentagon, has said that the organization works with some 39,000 hazardous sites.

One of the biggest polluters in the world is thought to be the US military. Just one-fifth of the toxins produced by the Pentagon are created by the top five US chemical corporations combined.

The Department of National Defence in Canada freely acknowledges that it consumes “high volumes of hazardous materials” and the most energy of any government in the country.

There is military contamination everywhere. Of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) prohibited by the 1987 Montreal Protocol for damaging the ozone layer, two-thirds were emitted by military forces from around the globe. A minimum of 50 nuclear weapons and eleven nuclear reactors were also lost in naval incidents during the Cold War and are still on the ocean surface.

7. Displacement of Populations

When a war breaks out, a large number of people are forced to leave their homes. Displaced people frequently struggle to obtain necessities, which strains the surrounding ecosystems even more.

Large environmental footprints can result from refugee and internally displaced person camps, especially if they are unplanned or lack basic amenities like waste management, water supply, and sanitary facilities.

Their position is crucial because campers would be forced to use nearby resources, such as firewood, which could put those resources under stress. Conflict-related displacement may also result in internal migration to metropolitan regions, which would increase population density and put pressure on regional environmental services.

Waste management is a basic need that both refugee camps and urban areas experiencing violence share. Conflict-related system failures frequently result in higher rates of waste burning and dumping, poor management, and lower waste segregation. One aspect of environmental governance that could fail in a war is waste management systems.

8. Natural Resource Depletion

Resource extraction used to fund conflicts can also lead to environmental harm and degradation. Armed groups often fight for control of resources such as lumber, oil, and minerals.

Processing techniques that contaminate water sources include the use of mercury in gold mining. Apart from armed factions and traditional laborers, business enterprises may also function in conflict-affected regions, frequently with little regard for environmental regulations.

9. Nuclear Contamination

Nuclear conflict has the potential to have devastating effects and long-lasting effects on the environment. Air, water, and soil pollution from radioactive fallout pose major health dangers to future generations.

10. Deforestation

Conflicts frequently lead to an increase in deforestation. This is frequently the result of overharvesting by local people, who find themselves unexpectedly dependent on wood and charcoal for fuel and warmth. However, it could also be the consequence of criminal or armed groups profiting from the breakdown of administrative structures.

Coping mechanisms used by the general public may also result in the overuse of other natural resources or environmentally harmful activities like artisanal oil refining. Additionally, there may be instances where community processes for sustainable resource management are upset.

Land ownership and rights disputes are frequent in conflicts with large displacement rates, especially when returnees move home.

Increased agricultural conversion or expansion can lead to increased environmental challenges in regions where humans have not previously lived. Increased rates of deforestation may result from this. Studies have revealed that in many post-conflict nations, rates of deforestation have sharply increased, with clearing surpassing the state’s capacity to control it.

11. Impact on Wildlife

Simple access to light and small arms can be detrimental to wildlife by encouraging more hunting and poaching, and the lawless areas left behind by conflict provide the perfect environment for wildlife crime.

It has been demonstrated that weapons used in wildlife crimes originate from violent nations. Programs for conservation may suffer if scientists and researchers are unable to reach certain locations because of security issues.

When poachers are armed, national parks and protected areas may lose what little protection they still have or face greater challenges in maintaining their protection. These circumstances may promote more militarised conservation, which could be detrimental to bonds with nearby people.

The construction of barriers and gates that may impede the movement of wildlife or keep people away from resources they depend on, as well as the movements of vehicles through training zones, can all influence the environment due to the increasing military presence.

Inadequate waste management practices at military bases, whether owned by states or private contractors, can harm the environment and public health. Biodiversity is declining as a result of ecological damage and the use of explosives. In the meantime, military solutions to security problems may cause greater environmental damage than peaceful ones.

12. Humanitarian and Environmental Disasters

War can lead to humanitarian crises, and when society structures fall apart as a result, bad waste management and natural disasters can happen, worsening the ecological impact overall. A widespread occupational practice is the unequal management of resources, including resource grabs and excessive mineral or water exploitation.

Inadequate or biased environmental regulation may contribute to environmental degradation. The occupied population may be compelled to live with fewer resources, worse environmental services, and higher pollution levels, in addition to not being able to enjoy the same environmental and human rights as the occupier.

13. Landmines and Unexploded Ordnance

Ordnance and unexploded landmines continue to endanger human populations and the environment. They have the potential to harm the land, taint it, and result in casualties.

14. Collapse of Environmental Governance

Underfunding and underdevelopment can cause vital environmental infrastructure—which can be harmed or deteriorated by violent episodes—to gradually crumble. Environmental damage may also result from actions made by the occupied population to resist the occupier.

Governance frameworks frequently collapse during wars, which results in a lack of environmental enforcement and regulation. This may lead to the unchecked use of natural resources.

Local and federal administrations may no longer be able to keep an eye on, evaluate, or address environmental issues if local environmental rules and regulations are disregarded. In regions controlled by non-state actors, new administrations may also take office; their approaches to environmental governance may diverge significantly from the government’s.

Environmental concerns have been more politicized as a result of a growing trend in recent years toward the weaponization of environmental information during conflicts.

15. Environmental Cost of Recovery

The damage that conflicts do to environmental governance can have long-term effects on environmental protection. This has the potential to impede progress on a wide range of issues, including biodiversity preservation, climate change adaptation, resource and protected area management, and pollution control.

And last, there can be a big environmental cost to recovery. Large-scale urban reconstruction initiatives may need an enormous amount of resources.


Rebuilding after a conflict and promoting sustainable development depends on an understanding of and response to the environmental effects of war. Rebuilding infrastructure, controlling pollution, and fostering peace are all crucial to reducing the long-term environmental effects of armed war.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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