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The devastation of war and conflict goes even further than those dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods. The environments in which people live become a forgotten victim of war. Water wells are polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned and animals killed to gain military advantage.

Furthermore, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that over the last 60 years, at least 40 percent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water. Conflicts involving natural resources have also been found to be twice as likely to relapse.

On the 5th of November 2001, the UN General Assembly declared 6th November of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. This day is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on the role of war on damaging natural environments and discuss ways to limit environmental destruction caused by armed conflict.

The United Nations attaches great importance to ensuring that action on the environment is part of conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace building strategies because there can be no durable peace if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystems are destroyed. Six United Nations agencies and departments, coordinated by the UN Framework Team for Preventive Action, have partnered with the European Union (EU) to help countries reduce tensions over natural resource and use environmental management for peace building and conflict prevention.

We at the World Assembly of Youth (WAY) believe that this day is an opportunity to take steps to reduce the collateral damage of conflicts and protect the natural resources that are so crucial for sustainable development. However, we must invest even more in policies, institutions and actions that relieve and manage environmental stress factors. On this International Day, let us acknowledge the unique role our natural resource base plays in averting conflict and building lasting peace, and let us recommit to protecting the environment during times of war.