I accepted an invitation from WWF-France who were organising a conference at the Senate in Paris. The symposium was intended as an opportunity to come together and review judicial protection and international agreements which guarantee justice, damage compensation and the restoration of habitats in times of conflict. Indeed, war has serious consequences on wildlife and the environment. Both have too often been the forgotten victims of 20th century conflicts. International conventions do attempt to limit the environmental impact of wars, but they seem so insufficient and so difficult to apply! We are at the dawn of a new era, one in which the link between armed conflict and the environment is affected by the increasing rarity of natural resources. The deterioration of natural habitats and the decreased access to natural resources, potential agricultural land and, more importantly, to water are environmental causes of armed conflicts in the world today, which can only worsen with climate change. (For example, the present-day situation in Darfur is considered the first conflict due to climate change). We must find solutions in terms of international rights. What is at stake is not “saving” the planet, but conserving acceptable living conditions for humans.
I had been chosen for my efforts in collaborating with the Congolese Armed Forces - I am an honorary member of their « Environmental Unit » - during the 15 years of war in the DRC. But also for our collaboration last year in response to a sad situation in the east of the country, in North Kivu (Virunga National Park) and in South Kivu (Kahuzi Biega National Park), with the fast disappearance of the Mountain Gorillas and the last remaining from our precious and endemic Eastern Lowland Gorillas. Thanks to a long standing friendship with Mr. Swing , whom I knew to be committed to nature and conservation, I was hoping that he might send a patrol into the area. However, as I also very well knew, this was not the responsibility of the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC).
My experience therefore confirmed the topic raised at the conference: tentative solutions are possible in situations of conflict BUT they rely on the initiative of individuals. International agreements have been in existence for over 50 years but rare are those who comply. The Environmental Unit of the Congolese Armed Forces is not taken seriously, neither internally within the Army nor by the conservation NGOs. Without Mr Swing’s personal involvement it is unlikely that the patrols would have been organised as quickly as they were…
Bearing in mind that many conflicts of the 21st century might be linked to the environment, it is my hope that the ideas of those who organised this conference, such as French Senator Marie-Christine Blandin and WWF-France, will disseminate and eventually challenge world leaders to take them seriously and perhaps set up, one day, a UN for the Environment.