By – Rihana Jemal
Since time immemorial, most of us heard about armed conflicts or been a part of it. It’s undeniable that the effect of armed conflict is often beyond measure. One can easily state that the impact of armed conflict on the environment is so damaging and history is good evidence.
Oftentimes, the causes of soil contamination result from dangerous chemicals that find their way into the soil and disrupt the soil structure. The atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought about a massive scale of soil contamination. The radioactive soil has become extremely infertile while the agricultural products that didn’t burn up during the bombing could no longer be consumed due to the massive radiation they contained. Soil contamination often has an immediate and long-lasting effect. A recent short video titled ‘Landmine Girls’ showing the clearing of unexploded bombs left from the Vietnam War, shows the reality of the long lasting effects of soil contamination.
As the survival of human beings relies on food, soil contamination due to armed conflict may result in the lack of food security/or food insecurity. Especially if it’s a country like Ethiopia whereby most of the populations livelihood depends on agriculture the consequences may be drastic. The issue of soil contamination extends well beyond food security. Taking into account what has been stated above, the overall effect can be diminish agricultural product, affect the land system and health of the people leaving at or aside that area.
Evidently, the lands of seventy-eight countries in the world are contaminated by land mines, which kill or maim 15,000- 20,000 people every year. Even the developed world as an example, there are still thousands of tons of unexploded Bombs in Germany, left over from World War II. Since most weapons contain harmful chemicals, the existence of landmines and unexploded bombs on or under the ground for years has a huge impact in soil contamination.
Coming to the protection accorded in international humanitarian law, Article 35(3) of Additional Protocol I prohibits the use of “methods or means of warfare which are intended, or maybe expected to cause, widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment’’. The prohibition has also been included in Article 55(1) of the Additional Protocol I. The prohibition on inflicting widespread, long- term and severe damage to the natural environment is repeated in the Guidelines on the Protection of the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict and the UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin on the Observance by United Nations Forces of International Humanitarian Law.
As stated in the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, one of the fundamental principles is the principle of distinction and proportionality. In times of armed conflict, civilian and combatants need to be distinguished. Nevertheless, the result soil contamination due to armed conflict through unexploded bombs and buried landmines mostly affects the civilian population during the war and even decades after. The principle of proportionality is another principle affected similarly. Due to armed conflicts, the soil in different parts of the world has been contaminated whereby millions innocent people and generations to come have been affected. These beg the questions, Is taking measures that affect the upcoming generation really proportional? To what extent is the principle of distinction and proportionality being applied in reality?
As the aforementioned questions linger in our minds and so long as armed conflicts continue being frequent, there need to be a serious consideration of the issue and impact of soil contamination. Further evaluation needs to be made before and after armed conflicts to ensure the well being of the soil. The ICRC is also mandated in ensuring that military personnel are aware of their obligation to respect and protect the environment during armed conflict. Even though, armed conflict plays a huge role for soil contamination the issue of soil contamination lacks enough consideration. ICRC’s involvement isn’t enough as this contamination is an environmental issue that concerns all; the international community also needs to play its role. Regarding this issue, especially in Africa, there is no sufficient amount of literature and research.
Clearing leftover landmines and unexploded bombs to solve the issue of soil contamination is a dangerous job. The need for safe and efficient technologies for detecting buried landmines and unexploded ordnance is a humanitarian issue of immense global proportions. Last but not least it’s important to point out what Charles E. Kellogg, a celebrated soil scientist, said “Essentially, all life depends upon the soil…There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” Indeed, the issue of soil contamination is the issue of life.
 . Susan Pattersin, Master Gardener, Contaminated Soil Treatment- How To Clean Contaminated Soils. April/5/2018.
 . UNICEF. “Children and Landmines: A Deadly Legacy”.
 . Adam Higginbotham, There are still thousands of Tons of unexploded bomb in Germany, left over from World War II.SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2016.
 . Additional Protocol I, Article 35(3).
 . Additional Protocol I, Article 55(1).
 . Guidelines on the Protection of the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict; UN Secretary General’s Bulletin, Section 6.3.
 . ICRC; Environment and international humanitarian law, 29-10- 2010.
. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Glowing bacteria detect buried landmines: Researchers remotely detect buried landmines, using fluorescent bacteria encased in polymeric beads, illuminated by a laser- based scanning system.’’ ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2017.
Rihana Jemal Mohammed is an undergraduate student at the School of Law, College of Law and Governance Studies, Addis Ababa University. She can be reached through the email address firstname.lastname@example.org