K4D Helpdesk Report

The Environmental Impacts of War and Conflict

Published on 25 March 2022

In modern warfare, the first widely acknowledged scientific study and documented case of environmental damage during conflict was the (direct and deliberate) use of Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals by US forces, from 1961-1971, during the Vietnam War in a policy known as herbicide.

The Vietnam War has been relatively well documented for the sheer horror and magnitude of the devastation to natural habitats and because it was the first war where television and global media brought vivid images and accounts into people’s homes, making the war a matter of political and public conscience. This helped stir academic and scientific interest and facilitated evidence collection and documentation of environmental damages.

This Knowledge, Evidence and Learning for Development (K4D) Programme Helpdesk Report is a rapid literature review on the main environmental impacts of war and conflict, drawing primarily on academic, and peer reviewed literature and only some policy and practitioner sources.

Where current situations are discussed, such as the ongoing Ukraine war, a few blogs are referred to. Within the literature focused on the environmental impacts of conflict, common case studies include: the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) bombing of Kosovo (1999), and the conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine (2014).

Interestingly there is comparatively less literature on the conflicts in Afghanistan (2001-2021), the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988), the Gulf Wars (1991 and 2003), the Yemeni civil war (2014 – present) and the ongoing war in Syria (since 2011) despite their relatively greater severity, intensity and duration.

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Khan, M. (2022). The environmental impacts of war and conflict. K4D Helpdesk Report. Institute of Development Studies. DOI 10.19088/K4D.2022.060

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Mahreen Khan

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Institute of Development Studies
Mahreen Khan


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