How the War in Ukraine Affects the Environment

NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe speaks with Carroll Muffett of the Center for International Environmental Law about the environmental effects of the war in Ukraine.

Ayesha Rascoe said, “The devastating human cost of Russia’s war in Ukraine fills headlines and news stories every day. Back in early March, though, hundreds of international law and environment experts signed an open letter warning of the risks the conflict posed to the environment in Ukraine and Europe.”

Carroll Muffett said, “One of the important things to understand about the environmental consequences of war is that they are human consequences in another form. And they are often difficult to discern, and they can be very long-lasting. It’s really important to recognize that eastern Ukraine, where much of the conflict has occurred, is highly industrialized. This means that there are petroleum refineries and chemical plants, and as we’ve seen too clearly, Ukraine has nuclear installations around the country. And so, the risks are enormous.

We’ve seen fires at a nuclear facility. We’ve seen attacks and missiles striking ammonia pipelines and chemical plants, causing releases of highly toxic substances. Even beyond this, there are enormous impacts on agricultural lands as lands are mined, as unexploded ordnance and munitions accumulate on the cropland. And we’ve even seen attacks and military operations in wildlife refuges and protected areas.”

“It’s important to recognize that one of the environmental consequences of war is that the people who are protecting land, who are managing water safety infrastructure are unable to do their jobs, or they’re doing it in the midst of live-fire zones. Often what we find is, in the wake of the war, that’s when we begin to count the true environmental cost of the operations.

And one way to look at it is that the environmental consequences of war are simply consequences in human impacts of war that can continue long after the shells have stopped exploding, long after the bullets and the guns have ceased. And so when we talk about the environmental consequences of war, what we’re really talking about is simply the impacts of war on humans and on the places where they live in another more protracted and often more insidious form,” she said.


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