Conflict & Environment

Image: Foto Wim Zwijnenburg

PAX works to document the environmental impact of new and ongoing conflicts, and to build better responses in order to reduce threats to public health and environmental risks for civilians

Peace organization PAX works to monitor and assess environmental impacts of conflicts. The documentation of environmental hazards in both conflict and post-conflict settings is often minimal due to security constraints. Unexploded bombs, explosive residues, radiation, and attacks on industrial sites where hazardous substances are stored and processed can pose risks to communities long after the conflicts they have lived through are over. Recent examples of these issues are the hazardous wastes of makeshift oil refineries, and in the impact of conflict on the environment in Iraq in the battle against the Islamic State.


In 2012,  PAX, together with the ICBUW, co-founded the Toxic Remnants of War Network; a group of civil society organizations working on conflict, disarmament and environmental issues. The Network is actively engaging with States, humanitarian organizations and legal experts to improve responses to conflict pollution and strengthen international law and policy making on protection of the environment in armed conflict. The Network websites also functions as a .research hub for data which aims to consider and quantify the detrimental impact of war, military operations and munitions on the environment and public health.

Undertaking assessments of environmental problems, increasing visibility and raising awareness of environmental threats during conflicts can help first responders and residents in a (post-)conflict zone, as they may need advice on how to avoid risks if environmental contamination is present. PAX is actively working with humanitarian and UN organizations to address these issues in humanitarian response work.

Improved information awareness could also alleviate broader psycho-social concerns. Civilians are often left in the dark with regard to changes in their environment and potential exposures to a range of hazardous substances. Health problems attributed to ill-defined environmental can result in psychological impacts such as a sense of helplessness, and strengthen grievances.

Providing clarity and information could help counter this. Information on specific environmental hazards could encourage behavioral changes that serve to minimize harm for conflict-affected communities and allow them to adapt to the changes in their environment. The data from environmental assessments can also be used for long-term environmental clean-up programs.

For their work on Conflict and Environment, PAX was awarded with the UNEP/OCHA Green Star Award in September 2017.

Together with its partners, PAX publishes an annual statement on the United Nations’ (UN) International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

Statement 2017
Statement 2016
Statement 2015


Wim Zwijnenburg, Programme Leader Humanitarian Disarmament,

Activiteiten & resultaten

Report: Scorched earth and charred lives

Syria’s professional oil production facilities have undergone a major decline since the start of the uprising against President Assad’s regime in 2011. As a consequence, civilians started to operate their own so-called backyard or makeshift oil refineries, where they produce a range of oil products from processing crude oil. However, these attempts come with a heavy price, as this practice exposes these workers – including an alarmingly high number of orphaned children – to highly toxic compounds. Read the report here.

Report: Living under a black sky

‘Living under a black sky’ explores the different ways in which the war in Iraq is leaving toxic remnants that have the potential to pose acute and chronic health risks for civilians. It was presented at the United Nations Environmental Assembly, and contains several recommendations to address the environmental health risks stemming from conflict.

Depleted Uranium: When the Dust Cloud Settles

Together with the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) PAX has been working on a project to create an animated short film on the hazards of depleted uranium and the international campaign against its use. The aim of the movie, called ´Depleted Uranium: When the Dust Cloud Settles´, was to render down a complex issue into six and a half minutes.

Research project

PAX’s research project on the toxic remnants of war focuses on the detrimental effects of poisonous substances released during conflicts. We started this project in April 2012, with the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). Its purpose is to inventory and classify potentially harmful substances that are released during conflicts and that can have long-term, detrimental effects on health and the environment.

Report Laid to Waste

The report Laid to Waste by Dutch peace organisation PAX has found that the lack of obligations on Coalition Forces to help clean-up after using depleted uranium (DU) weapons has resulted in Iraqi civilians and workers continuing to be exposed to the radioactive and toxic heavy metal years after the war. Download the report Laid to Waste.

Research report

PAX’s research report entitled In a State of Uncertainty surveys the use of arms with depleted uranium in Iraq in the period 1991–2003 and the measures taken, if any, to prevent radioactive contamination there. The report shows its effects on health and offers recommendations to reduce risks.

In a state of uncertainty

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