Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=80809
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 1:47:43 PM CST
Courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers
WASHINGTON – While most soldiers in Iraq focus on the conflict and securing the country, some are trying to fix a lesser known side effect of war – its damage to the environment.
“War not only causes human suffering. It can also be devastating to the environment,” said Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the U.N. in a 2002 statement. “Long after peace has been restored, the negative environmental impacts of conflict often remain.”
The United Nations Environment Programme in 2002 hosted the first International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. It acknowledged that war can damage an eco-system.
“(War’s impact on the environment) is not our focus, but obviously it needs to be directly addressed,” said a GreenPeace spokeswoman.
As part of an effort to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the Iraq war, the Army Corps of Engineers installed solar panels on streetlights in Fallujah – work that was done late last year while the country was still embroiled in conflict, making construction difficult to complete.
“(There’s) significance of providing night lights for a city that has seen such horrific conflict and where ‘security is still job one,’ as General (David) Petraeus has said,” said Army Corps of Engineers Baghdad spokesman L. Kendal Smith.
Even bigger changes have happened in Fallujah, where the Corps recently built the city’s first sewage treatment facility, Smith said.
Before the plant was installed, residents poured human waste into the Euphrates River, but now the plant is improving both the environment and quality of life for those in Fallujah, according to Smith.
“In my mind, such a treatment facility has, and likely will, have far greater impact on the future health and well-being for the citizens than the solar lights might,” Smith said.
The head of the Army Corps of Engineers is confident that progress is being made to improve the quality of life in and the environment of the region.
“One thing you just don’t see much of in the mainstream media is the quality-of-life improvements I was able to see first hand: busy streets, markets overflowing with fruits and vegetables, and people going about their daily routines – all very positive signs of progress for that region,” said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, on his blog.
‘Acknowledgment of the world around us’
In addition to its efforts in Iraq, the Army is taking steps toward sustainability both in the U.S. and abroad, according to Bob DiMichele, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Environmental Command.
“Our primary mission is to train soldiers to fight and win on the battlefield,” DiMichele said. “But how we do that is interdependent on our community neighbors and our environment.”
The U.S. Army Environmental Command has a budget of more than $1 billion, money that is used for everything from installing solar panels on military installations in Hawaii to protecting endangered species on the mainland.
DiMichele said ensuring the training lands are sustained doesn’t carry as much weight as training a soldier, but it does play a big role in the army’s overall goals of protecting the nation.
“If soldiers jump from the sky at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and there’s a six-foot ditch, they break their ankles and they don’t train,” DiMichele said. “We understand that the land that we’re protecting is really twofold. We have to learn to use it properly. And we have to protect it.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking on green programs, as well. In 2002, the Corps adopted a set of “green ethics” that strive toward sustainability and protecting and rejuvenating the environment.
“We’ve always felt that taking care of the environment was one of our key missions,” said Candice Walters, public affairs specialist for the corps of engineers. “There’s been a lot of emphasis of sustainability. This was just an acknowledgement of the world around us.”
A large chunk of the Army’s environmental budget goes toward ensuring the military doesn’t use machinery with a known eco-hazard. When new machinery or artillery is produced, DiMichele said, the Army weighs the environmental impact.
For example, the old “practice” rounds used in Army training contained a chemical that could ooze into the water supply. The Army re-evaluated those rounds and found an alternative that was more eco-friendly.
“We look at it from the starting point and not the cleanup point,” DiMichele said. “We have switched out that (chemical) for something that is potentially much less environmentally hazardous.”
Walters said the Corps of Engineers does similar evaluations and looks for eco-friendly technology to fit with the corps green ethics.
“We’re always embracing new technology as it comes about,” Walters said. “We need to continue to look for ways to work toward sustainability.”