Spotlight on PAX: 2017 Green Star Award Winner!
On the occasion of the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, we are highlighting the work done by PAX in this area.
Interview with Wim Zwijnenburg, Project Leader at PAX
“We started our Conflict & Environment work in 2014, with a focus on Iraq only, and later extended to Syria, the Ukraine and some small projects on South Sudan and Libya, hence we’re fairly new to this. During the last Green Star Awards Ceremony in Oslo, 2015, it was great to see so many practitioners coming together, but we never hoped to win this award so we do feel really honored.”
How do you believe winning a Green Star Award will impact upon the work of your organization?
The Green Star Award is a major recognition for the work we do on addressing concerns over the environmental impacts of conflict and how civilian protection should be improved. It will help make the promotion of the conflict – environment nexus easier, both among our partners and funders, as well as the wider audience, in order to ensure more resources and policy development is dedicated to improve humanitarian response to conflict pollution. Having organizations such as UN Environment and OCHA acknowledge that collecting and analyzing data, as well as responding to conflict pollution is critical, will hopefully resonate with relevant other international organizations and Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Environment. We hope this will open more doors and support engaging with policy makers to improve the international response to the threats posed by the toxic remnants of war.
How does your initiative contribute to bringing environmental actors and disaster responders/peacebuilding actors closer together?
Our aim has been to demonstrate that environmental damage caused by conflict can have acute and chronic health risks for affected communities. By providing input and demonstrating what these impacts are, we aim to set in motion a faster and more efficient response to conflict pollution. Failing to address these responses, or having warring parties not upholding their responsibilities to clean up the toxic remnants of war, can lead to grievances of local communities against local or national authorities, or exploitation by political groups for their own purposes. Hence, we believe that addressing these concerns can also support peacebuilding. Furthermore, we aim to demonstrate that data collection and limited analysis can already be undertaken during a conflict, even if you don’t have access to the area for security reasons. New tools and emerging technologies such as open-source data collection can already provide a useful entry point for identifying and monitoring potential sources of conflict pollution. This can then feed into post-conflict environmental assessments or more efficient reconstruction planning, which would take into account the environmental damage and related health hazards for local communities.
The work of you organization exemplifies moving from crisis to opportunity in the face of humanitarian/environmental emergencies. What do you believe is the key factor driving this in your organization?
Ultimately, we seek ways to improve the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. Throughout the history of our organization we have faced huge barriers, be it by working towards a ban on landmines, clusters munitions, or nuclear weapons. But in the end, we were able to prove that we can achieve our goals, by working together with our partners worldwide and by continuing to challenge the status-quo. Regarding the Conflict-Environment nexus, I strongly believe we can challenge the current practices of States with regards to how they manage armed conflicts, and ensure they are held accountable for their actions. We can encourage the international community as a whole to ensure that environmental pollution caused by conflict is being addressed, in order to minimize the health risks for civilians and the socio-economic challenges it brings with it in the aftermath of conflicts. We only have one environment, and therefore should take good care of it.
Given your professional experience and the work of your organization in the field of environment and emergencies, please share with us 2 of the most important lessons you took away from Nairobi. How do you plan to implement these in your work?
1) Listen to younger generations. Those working in the humanitarian sector often have a long track record and have their own way of doing what they do best. However, younger generations can bring in new innovative ideas and use of technology that challenge existing ways of thinking and working. They can bring change that could make work easier, faster, more efficient and cost-effective.
2) Be critical of your own work, and double check everything. In our work, it was often a process of stumbling and getting up again while learning. We made mistakes, we learned from it and moved on. Ensure that you always consult a broad set of people. During our breakout sessions, we received very useful input on our ways of work from experienced field workers that helped shape our thinking. In our enthusiasm we might forget to slow down once in a while to re-evaluate what it actually is that we want to achieve and how we want to get there.
The Green Star Awards (GSA) is a collaborative initiative of Green Cross International, UN Environment and OCHA. On Tuesday 27 September, the 2017 GSA ceremony recognized three organizations for their commitment to preventing, preparing for, and responding to environmental emergencies, as well as their efforts to integrate environment in humanitarian action. Find out more here!
Watch PAX’s profile video to learn more!
Click here for more information on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.