Fire and oil: The collateral environmental damage from airstrikes on ISIS oil facilities

Fire and oil: The collateral environmental damage from airstrikes on ISIS oil facilities

As the United States, Russia, and others step up attacks on the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), there is concern over their direct and long-term environmental and public health impacts. Many air strikes have targeted lucrative oil installations under the control of ISIS, and these could have severe detrimental effects for Syria’s future, both environmentally and socio-economically. Questions around the effectiveness of these strikes, both from a military and political perspective, seem to be missing in the wider debate. Although essentially forbidden by the Geneva Conventions, attacks on […]

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Watching the world burn: Islamic State attacks against Libya’s oil industry

Watching the world burn: Islamic State attacks against Libya’s oil industry

Contrary to other armed groups in Libya, the strategy behind the Islamic State’s attacks on oil facilities this week is not purely military. It is also part of a wider strategy calling for the disruption of the oil industry, not only to affect opposing regimes but also western society and the global economy. Damage to oil facilities can have severe negative consequences for the environment and public health. Interestingly, Al Qaida’s strategist Abdullah bin Nasser al-Rashid wrote guidelines for attacks on the oil industry, which also took into account environmental […]

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Lifecycle versus the law – defining the environmental impact of weapons

Lifecycle versus the law – defining the environmental impact of weapons

This blog considers the extent to which we can use international humanitarian law (IHL) to define or judge the environmental impact and acceptability of weapons. How do weapons damage the environment? Should we be thinking only in terms of their direct impact, or should we focus on how weapons are used? Or do we also need to take a more holistic approach, one that considers their impacts on the environment from production to disposal? During the debate among states over the International Law Commission’s (ILC) ongoing study on strengthening protection for the environment […]

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Online identification of conflict related environmental damage

Online identification of conflict related environmental damage

In this blog, Wim Zwinenburg (PAX) and Eliot Higgins (Bellingcat) discuss the open source intelligence tools that they used to recover data on environmental damage during the ongoing conflict in Syria for PAX’s recently published report Amidst the Debris. With the conflict in Syria soon to enter its fifth year, large parts of the country have been laid to waste by intense fighting, bombardment and shelling. Understandably, most of the focus has been on the fighting and the direct victims of armed violence, with rather less on other impacts and […]

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New desk study on Syria identifies pollution risks to civilians

New desk study on Syria identifies pollution risks to civilians

The ongoing conflict in Syria is likely to have a disastrous impact on the environment and public health, according to a new study published by PAX. Four years of fighting has left cities in rubble and caused widespread damage to industrial sites, critical infrastructure and the oil industry. Pollution from these forms of damage is likely to result in acute and chronic risks to civilians and will have a long-term impact on the environment that they depend on. “With the additional attacks by Russia in or near Aleppo, which has […]

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Collateral damage estimates and the acceptability of attacks on industrial sites

Collateral damage estimates and the acceptability of attacks on industrial sites

The deliberate or inadvertent damage or destruction of industrial facilities during conflict has the potential to cause severe environmental damage and create acute and long-term risks to civilians. Can such attacks ever be justified, particularly when the consequences of attacks may be difficult to anticipate with any degree of certainty? Global population growth, and with it increasing levels of industrialisation, is increasing the likelihood that in any given conflict, fighting may occur in areas containing industrial infrastructure. Consequently, the likelihood of damage to such sites is increasing. Industrial sites whose […]

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Iraq’s continuing struggle with conflict pollution

Iraq’s continuing struggle with conflict pollution

While Iraq is still recovering from the environmental impact of both Gulf wars, it now faces new environmental problems caused by the current conflict against the Islamic State. Since the uprising began in June 2014, fierce battles have taken place in and around cities and industrial areas, affecting the already precarious environmental situation. Wim Zwijnenburg considers the risks and response. Heavy fighting in and around the Baiji oil refinery, and attacks on other industrial installation have led to the release of a range of hazardous substances into the environment, affecting soil and […]

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Rebuilding Gaza and the need to assess TRW risks

Rebuilding Gaza and the need to assess TRW risks

The people of Gaza are facing the colossal task of rebuilding homes, roads and schools following the hostilities between Hamas and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) last summer. Disagreements over border access and the importation of construction equipment and materials have delayed the removal of rubble and rebuilding. As a result, environmental risks to civilian health linger in Gaza despite calls for greater urgency and co-operation between The Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United Nations. The IDF’s Operation Protective Edge resulted in the destruction of 61,800 homes along with the […]

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The environmental consequences of targeting Syria’s oil refineries

The environmental consequences of targeting Syria’s oil refineries

On the 25th September, the US-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Syria began targeting oil refineries under the control of militants from Islamic State (IS). The TRWP has previously questioned the wisdom of targeting oil infrastructure, incidents that have the potential to generate significant environmental contamination. Beyond localised pollution, the targeting of Syria’s refineries may result in further indirect harm to communities and the environment in oil producing areas through encouraging polluting micro-refineries. The initial round of airstrikes saw 12 small refineries targeted. Each was a modular refinery; these are built […]

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Attacks on oil infrastructure and the limits of environmental protection during conflict

Attacks on oil infrastructure and the limits of environmental protection during conflict

Recent fighting in Gaza and Libya has seen the targeting of a fuel burning power station and oil depot, resulting in large fires that have released toxic plumes into the atmosphere. These scenarios are unfortunately not new, with power stations and oil infrastructure commonly targeted during conflicts. What can peacetime responses to similar events teach us about the current limits of environmental protection during conflict? Andy Garrity investigates. On the 29th of July 2014, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) tanks shelled the Nusairat power station in Gaza. The plant provided approximately a third […]

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