Ecological Footprint of War

When we think of war we usually think in terms of human casualties and displacement. But human tragedy is only one aspect of war. Another is the long lasting ecological footprint resulting from war that often takes decades to resolve. Ecological footprint normally refers to an entity such as an individual, company or government. In this article it is used in the context of a military presence or product of war. An ecological footprint refers not only carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases contributing to the carbon footprint but also to ecological issues including pollution and use of non-renewable resources such as clean water.

Ecology is of great concern because war generally involves the indiscriminate destruction of land and damage to the surrounding environment. One such example was the dropping of the atom bomb on two Japanese cities at the end of the 2nd world war. In this case the ecological footprint consisted of massive destruction of land and long lasting effects of radiation. Another example of war-induced ecological footprint was the spraying of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Not only was Agent Orange an effective defoliate but also released dioxins as it degraded, causing serious health problems for anyone exposed to it.

Some of the more obvious environmental issues resulting from war are air and ground pollution, destruction of forests and land mines. An indirect impact to war’s ecological footprint is the diversion of government money and resources from less urgent programs, some of which relate to the environment. There are other more obscure ecological issues to consider such as the weakening of basic services and infrastructure within a country. This often results in water shortage, cooking fuel shortage and waste mismanagement during and after the war. The ecological footprint is impacted because inadequate water management can result in bacterial contamination, water loss via leaks (pipe damage) results in insufficient irrigation of cropland, food shortage and soil erosion. The Iraq war resulted in cooking fuel shortages and led to residents cutting down trees in order to cook.

Another war-related issue is the threat to biodiversity due to large numbers of displaced refugees. For example, the mountain gorilla population and habitat were threatened after the Rwanda genocide as displaced refugees returned to an overpopulated country and were forced to inhabit the forest reserves. A very serious impact to war’s ecological footprint in wartime is the mishandling of hazardous substances such as radioactive material. For example, during the Iraq war (in 2003) two hundred barrels of uranium oxide were stolen from a nuclear plant south of Baghdad. The contents of the barrels were dumped into rivers then local residents used the containers for storing basic amenities. Iraq’s nuclear inspector now believes that one thousand people could die of leukemia. Manufacture and test of dangerous weapons (in wartime or peace) also increases the ecological impact of the military presence. The contaminants from military sites are slowly leaching into the environment. Disposal of nuclear waste is a significant global problem.

In recent years, most scientists and responsible individuals have been much more concerned with the ecological footprint we are leaving for future generations to deal with. Concerns such as climate change, biodiversity and pollution. War is a significant contributor to all of these environmental problems. Hopefully our political and military leaders will be joining the green movement and consider the environment in future war activities, more so than in the past.

Environmental Hazards In Africa – Save Our Community of Africa


Humans have doubtless been altering their local environments since arriving in the scene as a distinct species several hundred thousand years ago. Our debut as major actors on the global stage – actors comparable in influence to the classic roles played by erosion, volcanism, natural selection, and the like- is a much more recent phenomenon. This dates back at most several thousand years, but has accelerated greatly in scope and influence over the last several centuries. According to Crutzen (2002) ” We live today in what may be called the “Anthropocene” – a new geologic epoch in which human kind has emerged as a globally significant – and potentially intelligent – force capable of reshaping the face of the planet”. The Italian geologist Anthonio Stoppani (1873) was describing humanity’s activities as a “new telluric force, which in power and universality may be compared to the greater forces of the Earth”. Several international conferences have been held to tackle environmental problems. Examples are, UN conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, 1992, World summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, etc. The need for harnessing science and technology in support of efforts to achieve the goal of environmentally sustainable human development in the Anthropocene was generally recognized at the Johannesburg Summit. Environmental hazards are contemporary issue in Africa but before I delve into the causes of the problems and some solutions, I would give some definitions and features of environment. I shall also use Nigeria (an African Country) as a case study because of the limitations of the work.


The unfortunate older, wrong and simplistic definition of environment is that it is the resource that was created for human use. It is that mechanical aspect that exists to serve human beings. This definition is unfortunate and wrong for it explained environment as something inanimate; something in at that exists solely for human recreation pleasures and needs. The background to this definition includes the anthropological, religious, psychological, economic and philosophical explanations of the origin and nature of the environment. Environment is also defined as the natural in which people, animals and plants live. Uchebu (1998) categorized the environment into physical and non-physical. The physical environment includes land (Terrestrial) Air, Water (Acquatic) environments and non-physical – cultural and socio- economic environment. The environment therefore functions according to Kankwenda (2001) as:

(1) A source of raw materials and energy (non – renewable resources);

(2) A provider of services such as maintenance of climatic system/stability and ecological cycle (renewable resources) including forest, agriculture land, water etc;

(3) And a sink for waste.


Environmental problems are about the central issue of the twentieth and twenty-first (20th -21st ) centuries. This is because the hazards, which are contained in it, are as deep and grave as they are long lasting in its effect to MAN and the eco-system itself. According to the “Awake” magazine, mankind is presently sitting on a time-bomb on account of environmental effects either in form of weaponry and/or pollutions and hazards such as flooding, drought, soil erosion, deforestation, volcanity, earthquakes, radio-chemical hazards etc.

Nigeria as a nation encompasses multiple climate which requires and sraddles various physiographic units. There are various ecological zones ranging from Sahel Savanna, Sudan Savanna and Guinea Savanna through Rain forest to Mangroves and Swamp forests. The various ecological zones respond differently to the impact of human activities by virtue of their natural stress response capabilities and inherent carry capabilities. The Sahelian Savanna is highly susceptible to desertification; the Sudan Savanna can barely cope with human pressures emanating from rapidly growing populations, fuel woods, harvesting and cattle grazing. The Guinea zone is ordinarily subjected to pressures as a natural buffer between the encroaching desert and the forest belt. The Rain forest belt is under excessive pressure through poor regulation and over-exploitation of forest products and other economic activities that result in clearing of vast area of land. Compounding this, especially in the Niger Delta area, is the large scale exploration, exploitation and processing activities by the petroleum industry, which have left their impact through crude oil and petroleum product spillages, gas flaring – related problems, land degradation and depletion of farm lands, water pollution and deterioration of critical habitats for fish stock. Occurrence of soil and gully erosion, especially in the eastern part of Nigeria, flooding in the low lying belt of mangrove and fresh water swamps, and uncontrolled logging with its inherent problems of destruction and loss of bio-diversity have immensely contributed towards further exacerbation of the deteriorating environmental scenario.

The above are the various causes and effects of environmental hazards in Nigeria. But there are major noticeable changes in the environment as a result of human pressure on it. These include viz

(1) Loss of biodiversity resulting in reduced variety of genetic strains, species and ecosystems, depletion and extinction of species etc.

(2) Increasing rate of soil degradation and desertification as well as air and water pollution.

(3) Increase in green houses gases that are expected to lead to an increase in the mean global temperature of 200 to 500C.(Global Warming)

(4) Massive release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the stratosphere resulting in increasing ultraviolet radiation from the sun due to depletion of ozone layer


The prognosis for continued and sustainable improvements in human well being on a transformed environment is, at best, guarded. The two broad causes of environmental hazards are the industrially caused environmental pollution and the wasteful private consumption by whole population living under modern urban conditions. Whereas the former evil is done by a very limited number of humanity, the latter is perpetrated by the whole humanity whose greed has been fired by advertising following the industrial age to want to have more and more things and wastes the resources of nature. Consequently, while political regulations, laws, civil movements/pressure groups can force industries to safeguard the environment. Such coercive and institutional measures cannot work for the pollution by the whole citizenry. Rather a change of attitude and action towards environmental sustainability would be based on the voluntary action of individuals. Because whatever affects and pollutes the environment is also of effect to us. I therefore canvass for an approach or relation between man and environment called “Ecocentrism”. The spirit behind this approach is to posit that environment is actually animate in the sense of being alive. It is therefore wrong to interpret environment as inert or inanimate.

Thus, the practical way forward for man to check environmental pollution and hazards according to Chigbo Joseph are viz

– Limit consumption of resources to a minimum and devise ways to use waste products in production.

– Making maximum use of the physical energy of the human body in order to maintain greater human health.

– Caution on use of the artificials additives to foods and other chemical products and be aware that harm almost invariably accompanies whatever good these substances do.

– Scientists and technologists to be ethically/humbly centered in their research and production

– Leaders to be imbued with the consciousness of saving man and the planet earth in their decisions.

In addition to the above, there should be establishment of regulatory agencies with varying powers to monitor and effectively control the sources of pollutants. Example is FEPA – Federal Environmental Protection Agency/Federal Ministry of Environment.

In a nutshell, the environment is a complex and delicate system which (I) if properly managed it can be geared to productive and domestic aesthetic and even spiritual requirements (ii) when poorly managed, the environment could easily become hazardous and threatening to human survival.