Damage Plan | General News & Politics | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Damage Plan 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:56 pm

Page 4 of 6

Okay, this hypothetical war ends and some of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people return home. Has it been studied whether the actions they take to regain economic stability are more damaging to their home environment than the actions that occurred during the war?
Not to my knowledge, no. My embarrassment as a member of the scientific community—but I suspect that there is even more embarrassment among the ecologists and environmentalists—is how little these refugees have been studied. It is really astonishing to note how little we know. We have one study out of Mozambique showing that as refugees returned to their home areas, the transportation route they took coincided with a vector of bushmeat hunting. The return movement caused a lot of wildlife destruction. But to my knowledge there are no studies that compare whether the resettlement of these areas induces additional damage on the environment.

Can you explain the term “conservation by default?”
That is a bit of an ironic, tongue-in-cheek phrase I use in the book. I refer to cases such as Ethiopia, when there was a war going on in the highlands. Ethiopia, as many of the other countries like Rwanda, Uganda, and the Sudan, is not particularly flush with money to begin with. The government funded environmental programs, but with the war going on, funds allocated to environmental conservation were shifted into the war. That’s conservation by default, which basically means the complete abandonment of what little conservational structure they had. No funding. No payment of game wardens. Lands may be protected on paper but not in practice.

You give the example of overwhelmed relief workers dealing with people in need and discuss how non-human conservation issues go by the wayside, and how this annoys conservation groups. Is it possible, important, or even realistic to attend to conservation issues during times of war-related crisis?  
It’s important, definitely. But I don’t know if it is realistic. That’s up to the people who read the book, especially if they work in the relevant agencies. I make a case that human rights, humanitarian emergency assistance, economic development, refugee, and natural resource conservation groups need to have a roundtable or council collaborating and coordinating their various actions. Again, I am an outsider. I am an economist, so I have no idea whether that is realistic or not. What I see happening as an outsider is that coordination is definitely needed in order to prevent additional damage as a consequence of war as you are trying to help the people in these areas. But whether the relevant people will actually get their act together is another question.

War changes the landscape and affects the environment. But yet, and this has been my personal experience working in Iraq, as people reenter a war-ravaged area, historically, there has been no solid environmental or sustainable plan in place—no blueprint for how to go about reconstruction or to restore an environmentally sound life. The Iraqi environmental organization I mentioned has actually been working to baseline conditions in Iraq since 2003, but there is no blueprint in place to address the environment in a conflict zone. How would you suggest a blueprint be created? Are there steps that should be taken? Is there an order to these steps?
I make a strong statement that after the war is done, after the weapons fall silent, people go back to their home areas and no one really pays any attention to the physical environment to which they return. Post-conflict economic recovery concerns fiscal, monetary, and labor policy and the like. But nobody really talks about the environmental situation to which these people return. Emergency recovery plans exist for the western industrial countries—such as England, Japan, Germany, the US, and Canada—and if you have a hurricane come through, or a flood or a tornado wipes out a city, there are plans in place to restore the environment, both human and nonhuman. I feel we can learn from these plans and apply them to developing or emerging countries in war, and post-war. But to my knowledge nobody has tried to do that. In a way I am pointing yet another finger at yet another failing. I do a lot of finger pointing in the book, I suppose. Who might feel encouraged to take responsibility to fill the gaps I identify remains to be seen.

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