Student studies impact of warfare on environment

The environment remains an issue for those living in the middle of war.

Yelena Kibasova

With troops trampling through the Middle East and bombs destroying the landscape, Nicole Benjamin, a fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology graduate student, is worried about the war’s impact on the region’s wildlife.

Benjamin is studying the effect of war on wildlife and environmental decision-making in these targeted areas. She said her studies have revealed some good news: Most leaders in these regions value wildlife protection in the midst of war.

“They do understand that local biodiversity has global repercussions. And the importance of their decisions and them being accountable to the world Ö even though they have different things on their priority list,” Benjamin said.

In her research, she surveyed scientists, reserve park managers and high-order decision makers such as Nobel Prize winners, former prime ministers and U.N. representatives.

She asked what challenges biodiversity faces or what challenges biodiversity will face in the next 30 years. Benjamin also asked how allocating resources to biodiversity decision makers is justified.

There are many benefits to preserving biodiversity in the Middle East and leaders are aware of it, she said.

“(Biodiversity) ensures our quality of life, ecosystem integrity, and really for the value of future generations, being able to enjoy the diversity that we have there today.”

Biodiversity is critical to the survival of the region’s environment.

“The system can’t sustain itself unless it has many kinds of species,” said Ken Keller, Charles M. Denny Jr. Professor of science, technology, and public policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. “And the system can’t survive trauma if all the species are the same.”

Environmental policy is also critical in keeping humans healthy, said Elizabeth Wilson, professor at the Humphrey Institute.

“You need clean water, you need sanitary conditions, and a lot of those are basic environmental sanitation services,” she said.

Leaders might have the environment on their list, but Benjamin hopes it will remain a political priority.

In the United States, scientists contribute knowledge in public policy decisions at the federal, state and local levels, said Carissa Schively, professor at the Humphrey Institute.

Benjamin said leaders in the Middle East also need similar consistent professional support in order to make educated environmental decisions.

“Most of the advice that goes on, goes on in a voluntary basis and that’s kind of unsustainable because it doesn’t ensure anything in the future,” she said.

The topic, however, has been controversial.

“The place that you would encounter controversy is more on the general public note,” Benjamin said. They would want to know about security before the environment, but they at least keep environment on the agenda.

Benjamin said she hopes legislation will be passed in those regions that require it, so a consultant may be hired and paid to help make important decisions. Paid work, as opposed to volunteer work, ensures the support will be sustained, she said.