Friday, 30 March 2012

Snowboarding in Bamiyan Afghanistan

The skiing in Afghanistan is superb due to the cold winters and for most of the time, lovely crisp powder snow. I did quite a bit of skiing and climbing in Afghanistan between 1993 and 1996 and have written many articles. The previous link gives a good description of the Hindu Kush and the people.

 Skiing near the Salang Pass Afghanistan in early 1996. Photo: Bob McKerrow collection.

Therefore I was delighted to read in the New Zealand website, that a group of young New Zealanders have been snow boarding in Bamiyan. This must be a snowboarders heaven. Here is their story.


AIR RAID: Kiwi snowboarder Clint Allan jumps over a house in Koh-e-Baba mountains, Bamiyan province, Afghanistan, a province wracked by war since 2002.

A gaggle of villagers deep in the mountains of central Afghanistan stared in wonder as a professional snowboarder from New Zealand launched himself over half a dozen young children, two of them perched atop donkeys.
It was one of the oddest interactions between foreigners and Afghans in the decade since US-led forces invaded the country, and the result of a surprising tourism push in a country at war.
International aid workers and enterprising locals are trying to attract snowboarders and skiers to the untouched slopes of the Koh-e-Baba mountains to improve the fortunes of Bamiyan province - the site of towering Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, and one of Afghanistan's poorest provinces.
It's no surprise that challenges abound.
Though Bamiyan is largely peaceful, it's tough to convince any but the most adventurous travellers to come to war-torn Afghanistan. Once visitors land in the capital, Kabul, they face the tricky prospect of catching a diplomatic or humanitarian flight since no commercial airlines fly to Bamiyan. A few hardy foreigners have braved the six-hour drive despite the threat of robbery and kidnapping.
There are no ski lifts, so every ascent requires a lung-busting climb up snow-covered mountains that rise to more than 5000 metres. Skiers climb up using "skins" - pieces of rough fabric stuck on the bottom of skis for traction. Snowboarders use special boards that split down the middle and then lock back together for the downhill.
 LEAP OF FAITH: Kiwi snowboarder Mitch Allan launches himself over a bunch of locals in Koh-e-Baba mountains, Bamiyan province, Afghanistan.

The writers of the definitive (and only) guide to skiing in Bamiyan also suggest the "donkey lift" - hiring a villager's donkey to carry you up the mountain.
The commercial guest houses open in the winter provide little more than a bed and a traditional wood-burning stove, and "apres ski" is limited to tea, kebabs and parlour games.
But the mountains are spectacular and provide seemingly endless runs down pristine slopes filled with nothing but the sound of the wind and the rush of skis against snow - a far cry from the crowded trails of American and European ski resorts.
This was the draw for a group of professional snowboarders from New Zealand and Australia who travelled to Bamiyan in late February to film a documentary. They were terrified when they arrived in Kabul, especially because of violent protests against US soldiers burning Korans that left more than 30 people dead.
"The amount of guns and razor wire that I saw on my way to the guest house from the airport only confirmed what I expected," said Alex Cameron, 22, editor of a snowboarding magazine in Sydney. "But stepping off the plane in Bamiyan, I felt completely safe."
Arriving in Bamiyan does feel a bit like being enveloped in a pastoral painting. The flight into Bamiyan city first makes a flyby of the gravel runway to make sure it is clear of animals and people. The plane lands with views on one side of the snow-covered Hindu Kush mountains, and the niches of the Buddha statues carved into sheer red cliffs on the other.

The snowboarders spent a week travelling with a local guide down Bamiyan's bumpy roads past clusters of mud brick houses looking for steep slopes to shoot down and things to jump, including cliffs, houses and, yes, donkeys - although it took some time to convince the animals' owner it was a good idea.
Once permission was secured, Clint Allan, 26, and his 24-year-old brother, Mitch, leapt off a jump built in the snow and soared about three metres in the air over the animals and local children.
The two tried to ride the donkeys afterward, provoking howls of laughter. They didn't have much luck getting the stubborn animals to move until a local kid started whacking the animals with a stick.
"It was sweet!" said the elder Allan.
Bamiyan attracted thousands of foreigners every year until the Soviet invasion in 1979 plunged the country into more than three decades of war. Tourists came to trek through the mountains, to picnic at dazzlingly blue Band-e-Amir lake and marvel at the Buddhas. But tourism was mainly limited to the summer, and skiing was unknown in the area.
There was some skiing near the capital, where a few enterprising Afghan skiers built tow ropes in the hills just outside Kabul. But they were abandoned after the Soviets invaded.
The push to make Bamiyan a skiing destination started in 2010, when the Geneva-based Aga Khan Foundation sponsored two Americans to write a guidebook. It has also trained locals to ski and hired internationally certified ski guides to take tourists into the mountains.
The new ski industry has had some economic benefit, although the numbers are still fairly small.
Gull Hussein, a 28-year-old entrepreneur, started a tourism company last year that offers a three-day ski package for US$315 ($NZ384). The deal includes lodging, local transport, ski rental and an international ski guide. About 70 foreigners have taken him up on the offer, most of whom travelled from Kabul.
Ali Shah Farhang has also benefited as Bamiyan's first local ski guide. The 20-year-old student started skiing about a year ago under the tutelage of an Italian guide brought by Aga Khan and has begun leading foreign clients into the mountains, including the professional snowboarders.
He receives $100 a month from Aga Khan and $30 per day when he is guiding clients, a significant sum in a country where a typical government bureaucrat in the capital makes $200 a month. For rural Bamiyan, it's a fortune.
"Foreign people are usually fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, but in Bamiyan they are comfortable, they are skiing," Farhang said.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Meaningless jargon and Lessons Learned.

There are many disaster practicioners out there who have been through thick and thin, and are totally committed to Lesson's Learned. But who is charged with following through on Lessons Learned? Do we have Ministers of Lessons Learned?  Do we have Permanent Secretaries of Lessons Learned? Do international organistions have people in charge of Lessons Learned? Having been working in the humanitarian sector for over 40 years I see many mistakes made that could have been avoided if someone had taken time to examine what their organisation, or other organisations or individuals had done in the past on this issue, operation or topic.
My former colleague Michael Stone, an authority on Afghanistan, Cantral Asia and,  a man who knows disaster relief and recovery, gave a lecture recently where he exposes common errors in needs assessment..


1. What I am about to say comes from directing emergency operations with the United Nations, Red Cross and NGOs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, former Yugoslavia, Georgia and Iraq. Also, I have chaired a number of coordination bodies, and reviewed emergency programmes in many parts of the world.

2. In this brief presentation, I want to introduce 5 areas of serious common error in needs assessments. Remember, if we get it wrong, people can die – in extreme cases, we may even kill them. I will then provide solutions for these errors, developed from my own experience, and conclude with something I am working on now which needs to be incorporated in all needs assessments.

3. The most serious errors:

A. Meaningless Language.

B. Failure to Distinguish Means from Ends.

C. Observation Altering Reality.

D. Lessons Not Learned.

E. Coordination Failure.


a. If I could receive a euro for every report I’ve read, every appeal document, and especially every evaluation, I would be rich. English is my first language, and I’m good at it, but document after document contains phrases, indeed whole paragraphs, which are meaningless. Oh yes, there is great pressure on me to pretend I understand, otherwise I may give the impression I am thick. But no, so often the phrases and paragraphs are meaningless.

COLUMN 1          COLUMN 2                   COLUMN 3

The above words are taken from recent reports. Moving right to left, in any combination, they give the appearance of sense, but are meaningless e.g. “responsive logistical alliance”, “functional empowering capacity building”, “strategic visionary benchmark”. They can even be reversed e.g. “benchmark empowering functional”

Meaningless language itself encourages illogical or impractical thinking. The following chart, informally called the Mother of All Charts, relates to the new US surge in Afghanistan. The chart was prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff by a leading international firm of management consultants.

The chart is mind-bogglingly awesome in its complexity and utter uselessness, and demonstrates admirably the problem of meaningless language encouraging illogical and impractical thinking.

 a. The problem, it seems to me, is that some of us don’t know what we are talking about. We think we do, but we don’t. The consequence can be formidable for the vulnerable in emergencies e.g. the failure of internationals to provide enough helicopters for the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir is partly the result of unintelligible needs assessments.

b. Language is important. For example, in recent years we have tended to talk of beneficiaries, rather than the most vulnerable. The two are not necessarily the same. A food distribution in an emergency, reported as reaching all beneficiaries, may have targeted millionaires!


a. In our world, we are here for one thing, to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, often in an emergency. That is the end. The means are the funds from donors, the structured organisation we may be part of, the tents, the medicines, the food and the vehicles for their delivery. But how often are the two confused! Some reports, some evaluations, and more seriously TORs, make no mention whatsoever of the most vulnerable.

b. This happens in development too. Recently I reviewed a counter narcotics programme for which $800m had been pledged. Initially, people said they were too busy to see us, but they had to, we reported directly to the donors. Yes, they were busy. About 300 were involved in various ways, working six days a week, firing endless e mails at each other, meeting all hours of the day. But after two years, only $2m had been spent, and most of this wasted. The mushroom project, for example, most unsuitable anyway, yielded a crop costing $27,000 a kilo! The end – to encourage farmers to turn away from the poppy – had been forgotten. The means dominated everything.


A. Here I would like to introduce my own adaptation of the Heisenberg Principle. Heisenberg, a father of Quantum Mechanics, made a disturbing discovery in the 1920s. That by looking at something, you alter its behaviour. His analogy was an atom under a microscope, the objective being to see the path of electrons around the nucleus. When you turn light on the slide to see the atom, the photons from the light knock the electrons into different orbits. Hence, his law that the act of observation alters what is seen.

B. We see this in so many ways in relation to needs assessments:

1. The Questionnaire, with the leading questions, encouraging one answer more than another.

2. The interviewer arriving at a destroyed village in a chauffer driven land cruiser, so obviously rich, powerful, foreign – it is all too likely the vulnerable people will provide the answer they think you want to hear.

3. The fact Finding Mission, so often a mix of relevant and irrelevant organisations for the situation, who strive for a consensus which signifies nothing. A UN response to an emergency I reviewed took three months to assemble 23 senior people from 10 different agencies. The recommendations came far too late for action, and were wrong anyway – they were based on a distorted timetable arranged by a Minister.

You know the sort of thing – with most funds going to a particular organisation for orphans, which just so happens to be run by the Minister’s brother.

In all these instances, and many others, the observer is altering reality, indeed creating a false reality. So many needs assessments are based on false realities as the act of observation altered what was seen.


A. No, they are not. I have seen this time and time again as a Consultant reviewing programmes, in particular on behalf of donors. The reasons are threefold.

1. Most organisations have no mechanism at an appropriate level for considering Report recommendations.

2. On the rare occasions when they do exist, there is no system for implementation of recommendations agreed. Some people don’t even make the distinction between agreement and implementation. To paraphrase Cervantes “It is a far cry from agreement to implementation”.

A third problem, arises from the meaningless language

I have already mentioned. Most recommendations are meaningless themselves. Like a bar of wet soap which slips out of your hand. You know the sort of thing: “It is recommended steps are taken towards increasing advocacy, enhancing synergy, promoting empowerment…” The list goes on. You can do absolutely nothing at all, and no one can prove you haven’t implemented such recommendations.

3. The general failure to learn and implement lessons results in the humanitarian and development world being littered by a repetition of mistakes. The wrong food in an emergency, the wrong medicines, clothes for the wrong season – or projects which destroy livelihoods e.g over supply of boats and nylon fishing nets. In a review I did on the tsunami, the mantra from so many beneficiaries was“First tsunami, then the foreigners”.

For those like me with some grey hair it is so frustrating to see the wheel continuously being reinvented, with the same mistakes being made that we made twenty years ago. A common definition of insanity is repeating the same, and expecting a different result.


1. We talk about it a lot. To outsiders, it looks as if it is happening. Generally, it is not. For two years I chaired the UN NGO coordination body for Afghanistan. So it seems to me, I know what I am talking about!

2. There are 2 key realities preventing real coordination:

a. Factually, the term itself implies some authority external to the organisation. From UN Agencies to the smallest of NGOs, each has its own constitution, its own sovereignty, an independent board to which most ultimately report. They cannot be told what to do by others.

b. Egos. Often, they are enormous. We have all met directors of operations, large and small, who are in love with power, and seek only their own glory. Shakespeare called this “the insolence of office”. They have to be the first into some emergency, they dominate coordination meetings if they attend them at all - often it is some junior. They claim in their reports to provide everything that is needed to all those in need e.g. I once led a major evaluation into the international response to the Kosovo crisis. Kosovo has a population of 2m. Adding reports of key players together, who mostly claimed comprehensive support to all beneficiaries, there had to be a population of about 22 million.

c. Real coordination, and the synergy which follows for the most vulnerable, is far more rare than is presented. Where it does happen, it usually comes down to the sociability, the friendliness and the hearts of key individuals.


1. I have spent some time on the problems of needs evaluation for two reasons:

a. It’s no use coordinating and integrating emergency assessments of different organisations if they are wrong.

b. The solutions are contained within the problems I have outlined.

2. Briefly:

a. With regard to unclear language: Let us be simple and clear. I know this is more difficult than being complex and long winded, but let us never speak or write an unclear sentence again, especially if we don’t understand it ourselves. Remember the old Chinese saying: “The less matter there is, the more substance there will be”.

b. With regard to means becoming more important than ends. Let us always keep in mind that we are here to identify and help the most vulnerable. So often, organisations work from their head offices to the most vulnerable. They should work backwards, from the most vulnerable to the head office. Begin with the end in mind. I always try to remember, that the most senior person in any humanitarian organisation is employed by the poorest, the most vulnerable people on earth. In a perfect world, their jobs would not exist. No one is more important than the most vulnerable.

In an emergency, the whole point of our work is to meet a vulnerable person’s request. This may be
typified as “I need X goods in this quantity now” and “I will need X + Y + possibly z in this quantity for this period”. Remember the words of the philosopher Diderot: “It is not enough to do good. Good must be done well”.

c. In relation to our observation altering reality. Be conscious of the Heisenberg Principle in all we do. Watch those questionnaires to ensure each question is entirely objective, culturally sensitive and retains human dignity. Park your land cruisers on the edge of the village, walk in, be informal, go individually, listen – they know what they need far better than we do.

d. With regard to lessons not being learned. Let us not continue the mistake identified by the writer G.B. Shaw “Man learns from history that he learns nothing from history” For emergency needs assessments, appoint staff who have experience of running operations themselves, and who are capable of producing, with speed, clear and practical recommendations. Appoint consultants for evaluations with the same qualities. In relation to evaluations, take them seriously.

Establish a standing committee at director level for consideration of all evaluation recommendations. Clearly accept, perhaps with modification, or reject specific recommendations. Task mangers to implement recommendations with instructions to report to the standing committee on specific progress in three month’s time.

e. With regard to coordination, appreciate that agencies, organisations, NGOS have their own sovereignties. Get rid of the word coordination. Use cooperation instead. You will find this word emphasises the voluntary nature of working together, and works so much better.

In relation to egos. Remember Dostoyevsky’s immortal words: “Everybody is responsible to everyone for everything”. Appoint directors and mangers who are friendly, open, intelligent and with hearts. Those who realise they are there to help the most vulnerable and not themselves – who understand the enormous synergy, increasing significantly the impact of all we do, which arises from cooperation.


1. I would like to conclude with a few words on something I am currently working on. It attempts to correct a serious failure in emergency needs assessments. I call it the Compound Crisis.

2. We respond usually to emergencies on an individual basis, as if they are one off. We are mistaken. Very often one disaster causes another, the second and third disasters often being more devastating than the first. Mathematics best illustrates the power of compounding.


 If offered a million Euros now, or one Euro which doubles every day for only a month, most of us would choose the former. We are wrong. One Euro doubling for a month is worth far, far more than Euro one million. The figure amounts to over one billion!

3. I saw the impact of compounding most recently in Tajikistan where I was UN Emergency Coordinator. An unprecedented cold winter with record snow falls caused a food and heating emergency. This was followed, in the spring, by a second emergency, sizeable floods and landslides. By the time summer came, agricultural output was at its lowest because of substantial seed destruction and high livestock mortality in winter. Unprecedented low rainfalls then encouraged an explosion of locusts. Record high locust storms destroyed record low agricultural production.

4. It is the poor who are hit by disaster, not the rich. With the compound effect of one disaster leading to another, the same people are being hit each time. It is like being a boxer, winning one fight, and then another opponent enters the ring – you survive, but then another and another enters the ring. The ability to survive each disaster diminishes. In the end, many will die.

5. As donations for humanitarian assistance are nearly always linked to newsworthy visibility, a Compound Crisis will be unnoticed internationally, and receive little or no funding. Yet, it may be compared to a silent tsunami. In the context of global warming, the Compound Crisis will need to receive significant attention.

Thank you.

Michael Stone

Friday, 23 March 2012

Protection of the natural environment in time of armed conflict

In 1971 I was working for the New Zealand Red Cross in the central Highlands of Vietnam and regularly saw the US dropping defolients such as Agent Orange, and of course that dreadful Napalm. I was shocked by this cruel and indiscriminate action but made up my mind I would learn more about it. During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 US gallons (75,700,000 l) of chemical herbicides and defoliants(commonly referred to as Agent Orange, in Vietnam eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, as part of Operation Ranch Hand. The programme's goal was to defoliate forested and rural land, depriving guerrillas of cover; another goal was to induce forced draft urbanization, destroying the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside, and forcing them to flee to the U.S. dominated cities, thus depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply.

Al Lavelle, pictured below, was an ex-US Airforce WW II pilot  and was working for USAID as a refuge and IDP adviser in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in mid 1971 offered to fly me in a small Cessna starting from Pleiku, pointing out the enormously damaging effects of defoliants over at least three of the highland provinces. For more about Al Lavelle click here. Al had been in the
During the past few years I have been working in Sri Lanka and when travelling in the north of the country, I have seen the huge amount of environmental damage done in the name of conflict. purposes.

Similarly, during the many years I spent in Afghanistan, I was saddened by the land clearance that had taken place for military

That is why there must be protocols or conventions to protect the natural environment in the time of armed conflict.

Yesterday I discovered this paper which I found very useful. It is from the International Review of the Red Cross, No. 285, and written by Antoine Bouvier,  dated 31-12-1991,

Protection of the natural environment in time of armed conflict

Antoine Bouvier holds a law degree from Geneva University. He has been a member of the ICRC Legal Division since 1984. The Review has published several of his articles, including "Special aspects of the use of the red cross or red crescent emblem" ( IRRC , No. 272, September-October 1989, pp. 438-458). [1 ]

"The deterrence of, and response to, environmental attacks are new dimensions to national security challenges". [2 ]

I. Introduction

Since the early 1970s, the steady deterioration of the natural environment has given rise to widespread awareness of man's destructive impact on nature.

This awareness of the vital importance for humanity of a healthy environment and the determined efforts of numerous environmental protection agencies have led over the years to the adoption of a large body of laws for the protection and preservation of the natural environment.

Concern for the environment - and the codification of rules for its preservation - first emerged at national level.

It led to the adoption of abundant legislation for the protection of the environment as such or of it s various components (such as water, air and forests). Many States also adopted constitutional rules protecting the natural environment.[3 ]

However, States and specialized agencies realized fairly rapidly that purely national environmental policies were inadequate in view of the magnitude and the transnational nature of many environmental problems, and that it was essential to adopt international rules.

Left: Defoliant spray run, part of Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War by UC-123B Provider aircraft

Environmental protection, or conservation, was therefore placed on the agenda of many institutions active in the field of international law. Their efforts have resulted in the adoption of a substantial and constantly growing body of rules, known as international environmental law . These rules cover a wide range of issues, including the prevention of environmental damage and the promotion of international co-operation in dealing with its effects.

It would be impossible here to examine in detail all the rules of international environmental law (which, of course, were conceived mainly for application in peacetime). We shall therefore mention only the two fundamental principles underpinning that law.

The first principle is the obligation for States to avoid causing environmental damage beyond their borders.

This principle has been affirmed in several legal decisions .[4 ] It is also expressly mentioned in various international treaties[5 ] and many other legal texts.[6 ]

The second principle is the obligation for States to respect the environment in general. Like the first principle, it is set forth [7 ] in various treaties and bilateral, regional and international agreements.

Environmental protection was later raised in the more specific context of international human rights law . It is now recognized that personal growth and happiness - fundamental human rights - cannot be achieved in a severely damaged environment.[8 ] The right to a healthy natural environment is thus gaining increasingly wide acceptance as a fundamental human right. It is expressly provided for in various international treaties,[9 ] other legal texts and the constitutions of many States.[10 ]

At this point in our review of provisions for the protection of the environment in peacetime, it should be mentioned that environmental protection has also been a major concern of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, as demonstrated by various resolutions[11 ] and numerous studies.[12 ]

The emphasis placed on environmental protection during the most recent work on the codification of international humanitarian law (IHL) was both a natural and a logical development. It was natural because the trends that shape the legal rules applicable in peacetime often influence the development of the law of war, and logical in view of the extremely serious environmental damage caused by certain methods and means of modem warfare. Section 11 of this article contains a summary of the major rules of IHL for the protection of the environment in wartime.

Environmental damage in wartime is inevitable. Throughout history, war has always left its mark, sometimes extremely long lasting, on the natural environment. Today some battlefields of the First and Second World Wars, to give only two examples, remain unfit for cultivation or dangerous to the population because of the unexploded devices (especially mines) and projectiles still embedded in the Soil. [13 ]

The rules of IHL for the protection of the environment therefore aim not to prevent damage altogether, but rather to limit it to a level deemed tolerable. Unfortunately, there is reason to fear that the use of particularly devastating means of warfare (whose effects are often still unknown) could wreak such large-scale destruction as to render illusory the protection afforded civilians under IHL. Indeed, severe environmental damage could seriously hamper or even prevent the implementation of provisions to protect the victims of armed conflict (the wounded, the sick , prisoners of war or civilians ). For these reasons alone, respect for and compliance with the rules of IHL for the protection of the environment are crucial.

All these issues suddenly assumed new urgency during the conflict that set the Middle East ablaze in 1990-91.

In the wake of that crisis, many questions were raised about the content and scope of and possible shortcomings in the rules of IHL for the protection of the environment in time of armed conflict. These questions were discussed at several meetings of experts in humanitarian law and environmental protection.[14 ] In spite of the high level of the discussions, it proved impossible to reach any final conclusions because of the difficulty in establishing various basic data, such as a scientific assessment of the environmental damage caused by modem warfare [15 ] and a thorough analysis of the content and limitations of the rules in force.

However, the following provisional conclusions were drawn:

(a) the 1990 -1991 Middle East conflict is too narrow a frame of reference for setting standards since environmental damage in wartime can take many forms;

(b) certain issues shoul d nevertheless be examined with a view to solving problems of interpretation of the rules in force and possibly filling loopholes in the law;

(c) the rules of IHL currently in force could substantially limit environmental damage, providing they are correctly complied with and fully respected.

II. Rules of law for the protection of the environment in time of armed conflict

Most of the customary rules, treaty provisions and general principles for the protection of the environment in time of armed conflict are mentioned below, and the most important are discussed in some detail.

It should be pointed out here that, although the concept of the environment as it is understood today did not emerge until the 1970s, many of the general rules and principles of IHL (often dating much further back) contribute to protecting the environment in wartime.

A. General principles

The most important general principle of humanitarian law in the present context is the one according to which the right of the Parties to the conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited. This basic principle, which was first set forth in the Declaration of St. Petersburg in 1868, has been frequently reiterated in IHL treaties, most recently in Protocol I of 1977 additional to the Geneva Conventions (Art. 35, para. 1).

The rule of proportionality is another basic principle of IHL which underlies many of its provisions.[16 ] Like the first principle mentioned, it clearly applies as well to protection of the environment in time of armed conflict. [17 ]

B. Treaties affording the environment indirect protection

First of all the term " indirect protection " of the environment should be defined. Until the early 1970s IHL was " traditionally [... ] anthropocentric in scope and focus " . [18 ] Indeed, IHL texts adopted before then made no reference to the environment as such (the concept did not even exist at the time). Nevertheless various provisions relating, for example, to private property or the protection of the civilian population, afforded the environment some protection.

Such provisions are found in many international treaties and most of them have now become customary law. As it is impossible to review all the relevant instruments here, we shall focus on the major ones.

The importance of the general principles stated in the 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration has already been mentioned. The Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (Convention No. IV of 1907) reaffirms and expands on those principles[19 ] . Its annexed Regulations contain a provision, namely, Art. 23 para. 1(g), that illustrates perfectly the aforementioned anthropocentric approach. This article, which states that it is forbidden " to destroy or seize the enemy's property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war " , is one of the earliest provisions for the protection of the environment in armed conflict.

Several treaties that limit or prohibit the use of certain means of warfare also contribute to the protection of the environment in armed conflict. These are as follows:

- the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, adopted in Geneva on 17 June 1925;

- the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, adopted on 10 April 1972;

- the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, adopted on 10 October 1980.

The 1980 Convention is of particular interest for at least two reasons:

First of all, it sets up a mechanism whereby it may be revised or amended (Art. 8). The adoption of an additional protocol relating to the protection of the environment could therefore be envisaged.

Secondly, certain of its provisions, in particular those concerning the use of mines, booby-traps and other devices (Protocol II) and incendiary weapons (Protocol III), contribute directly and specifically to the protection of the environment in time of armed conflict.[20 ]

Another treaty, namely, the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Convention of 12 August 1949), in particular Article 53 prohibiting the destruction of real or personal property, provides minimum protection of the environment in case of enemy occupation.

C. Treaties affording the environment specific protection

Two treaties are of major importance:

- the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques ( " ENMOD " Convention adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1976);

- Protocol I of 1977 additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

1. Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques

This Convent ion was adopted under United Nations auspices, largely in response to the fears aroused by the use of methods and means of warfare that caused extensive environmental damage during the Viet Nam War.[21 ] It prohibits " military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party " (Art. 1).

The term " environmental modification techniques " refers to " any technique for changing - through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes - the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth (Art. 2).

2. Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949

Protocol I contains two articles pertaining specifically to the protection of the environment in time of armed conflict.

The draft protocols submitted by the ICRC to the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law applicable in Armed Conflicts (CDDH) made no reference to the environment. The two articles in question were introduced at the Conference itself, showing the growing awareness of the importance of respect for the environment that emerged in the early 1970s. [22 ]

(a) Article 35, para. 3, stipulates that " it is prohibited to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment " .

This article, pertaining to methods and means of warfare, protects the environment as such.

(b) Article 55 provides that:

1. Care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage. This protection includes a prohibiti on of the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby to prejudice the health or survival of the population.

2. Attacks against the natural environment by way of reprisals are prohibited " .

It should be noted that this article - which is intended to protect the civilian population against the effects of hostilities - is found within the broader context of protection of civilian objects, which is the subject of Part IV, Chapter 111, of Protocol I (Arts. 52-56).

Article 55 does more than merely restate Article 35, para. 3. It establishes a general obligation to protect the environment during the conduct of hostilities, but that obligation is directed to the protection of civilians, whereas Article 35, para. 3, aims to protect the environment as such.[23 ]

As a logical extension, Article 55 prohibits reprisals against the natural environment in that they would penalize humanity as a whole.

Protocol I contains further provisions contributing indirectly to environmental protection in time of conflict,[24 ] such as Articles 54 ( " Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population " ) and 56 ( " Protection of works and installations containing dangerous forces " ).

3. Link between the provisions of Protocol I and the rules of the Convention on the prohibition of the use of environmental modification techniques ("ENMOD")

These two treaties prohibit different types of environmental damage. While Protocol I prohibits recourse to environmental warfare, i.e. the use of methods of warfare likely to upset vital balances of nature, the " ENMOD " Convention prohibits what is known as geophysical warf are, which implies the deliberate manipulation of natural processes and may trigger " hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes, and rain or snow " .[25 ]

Far from overlapping, these two international treaties are complementary. However, they give rise to tricky problems of interpretation stemming in particular from the fact that they attribute different meanings to identical terms, such as " widespread, long-term and severe " . To give but one example of such semantic difficulties, the definition of " long-term " ranges from several months or a season for the United Nations Convention to several decades for the Protocol.[26 ]

Moreover, the conditions of being widespread, long-term and severe are cumulative in Protocol I, whereas each condition is sufficient in and of itself for the " ENMOD " Convention to apply.

There is a danger that such discrepancies might hamper the implementation of these rules. It is therefore to be hoped that the work currently being carried out in the field of environmental protection in wartime (see note 14) will lead to harmonization of the two treaties. [27 ]

D. Protection of the environment in situations of non-international armed conflict

Despite the obvious threat posed by situations of non-intemational armed conflict, none of the rules of IHL applicable to such situations provide specifically for protection of the environment. A proposal was made at the CDDH to introduce into Protocol II a provision analogous to Article 35, para. 3, and Article 55 of Protocol I, but the idea was ultimately rejected.[28 ]

However, the concept of environmental protection is not totally absent from Protocol II. Article 14 ( " Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population " ), which prohibits attacks against " foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works " , and Article 15, which prohibits any attack against " installations containing dangerous forces [... ] if such attack may cause the release of [such ] forces " , unquestionably contribute to protecting the environment in time of non-intemational armed conflict.

III Conclusion

The destructive potential of the methods and means of warfare already in use or available in the world's arsenals today represents a threat to the environment of a magnitude unprecedented in the history of humanity. Special emphasis must therefore be placed on compliance with and constant development of the rules of IHL for the protection of the environment in time of armed conflict.

Unlike certain other authors,[29 ] we are not convinced of the need at present to revise all the provisions of IHL for the protection of the environment, although this would become indispensable should new means of warfare be introduced.

Certain issues nevertheless merit detailed study. In particular, attention should be paid - as at the London and Ottawa meetings [30 ] - to protection of the environment in time of non-intemational armed conflict and to the formulation of rules applicable between a State party to a conflict and a State not party thereto whose natural environment may be affected by the conflict. Further thought should also be given to the suggestion put forward by some experts that nature reserves should be declared demilitarized zones in the event of conflict.[31 ]

It is generally agreed that the rules of IHL currently in force (see section 11 above) could considerably limit environmental damage in warfare, providing they are correct ly applied and fully respected. Therefore, rather than initiating a new and possibly unproductive codification process, a special effort should be made to ensure that these rules are adopted by as many States as possible. It is of paramount importance to ensure implementations of and respect for the existing rules, so that future generations will not be faced with insurmountable problems resulting from damage caused to the environment in time of conflict.

Notes :

1. The views expressed here are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the ICRC.

2. " Conduct of the Persian Gulf conflict, an interim report to Congress " , Department of Defense, Washington, July 199 1, p. I 1.

3. A list of the States that have introduced such rules into their constitutions can be found in Schwartz, Michelle, " Preliminary Report on Legal and Institutional Aspects of the Relationship between Human Rights and the Environment " , Geneva, August 199 1, P. I 1.

4. See " La protection de I'environnement en temps de conflit armé " , European Communities, Brochure 54 110/85 slnd, pp. 17-18.

5. See, for example, the Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982, Art. 194, para. 2.

6. See, for example, Principle No. 21 of the Declaration of Stockholm adopted on 16 June 1972 by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. For a summary of the proceedings of the Conference, see ICRC, No. 141, December 1972, pp. 683 and following, and ICRC, No. 137, August 1972, pp. 468 and following.

7. For a list of these texts, see " La protection de I'environnement en temps de conflit armé " , op. cit., pp. 25-30.

8. For a more detailed discussion of this problem, see Schwartz, op. cit., pp. 4-1 1.

9. See, for example, Art. 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples'Rights signed in Nairobi in June 1981, which states that: " All peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development " .

10. See note 3.

11. Resolution No. XVII, 22nd International Conference, Teheran, 1973; and Resolution No. XXI, 23rd International Conference, Bucarest, 1977.

12. See, for example, Domanska, Irena, " Red Cross and the problems of environment " , ICRC, No. 131, February 1972, pp. 73-78; Vigne, Jacques, " The Red Cross and the human environment " , ICRC, No. 183, June 1976, pp. 295-300; Schaar, Johan, A Shade of Green: Environment Protection as Part of Humanitarian Action, Henry Dunant Institute Working Paper No. 2:90, Geneva, 1990.

13. For more information see Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Eds. Sandoz, Y., Swinarski, C., Zimmennann, B. Eds., ICRC, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Geneva, 1987, p. 410, para. 1443 and footnote 84.

14. In particular, a symposium held on 3 June 1991 in London under the auspices of the London School of Economics, the Centre for Defence Studies and Greenpeace International, to assess the need for a fifth Geneva Convention; a meeting of experts convened in Ottawa by the Canadian government on 10-12 July 1991 and the Third Preparatory Committee of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held on 12 August - 4 September 1991.

15. Such an assessment is extremely difficult to make since environmental damage can take many forms and some of its effects are not immediately evident. For a partial assessment of the damage caused by the 1990 -1991 Gulf war, see " on impact , modern warfare and the environment, a case study of the Gulf war " , Greenpeace International, London, 1991; " Some lessons to be learned from the environmental consequences of the Arabian Gulf war " , WWF International, May 1991 (document distributed to the Second UNCED Preparatory Committee); " Environmental assessment of the Gulf crisis " , Doe. A/conf./151/PC/72, a report considered by the Third UNCED Preparatory Committee.

16. See, for example, Protocol I of 1977, Art. 35, para. 2; Art. 51, para. 5(b) and Art. 57, para. 2(a) and (b).

17. On the principle of proportionality in relation to the protection of the environment in time of armed conflict, see Bothe, Michael, " War and environment " , in Encyclopaedia of Public International Law, Instalment 4, p. 291.

18. See " Note on the current law of armed conflict relevant to protection of the environment in conventional conflicts " , p. 1, document prepared in the Office of the Judge Advocate General, Canadian Armed Forces, and distributed to participants at the Ottawa symposium (see note 14).

19. See Art. 22 of the Regulations annexed to the Convention which states that: " The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited "

20. For a discussion of these provisions, see Goldblat, Jozef, " The mitigation of environmental disruption by War: Legal Approaches " , in Westing, A., (ed), Environment hazards of war, Oslo, London, pp. 53-55.

21. For more background information on this treaty and the negotiations leading up to it, see Commentary on the Additional Protocols, op. cit., p. 413, para. 1448; and Herczegh, Geza, " La protection de I'environnement natural et le droit humanitaire, in Studies and essays on international humanitarian law and Red Cross principles in honour of Jean Pictet, Swinarski, C. , ed., ICRC, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Geneva, The Hague, 1984, p. 730.

22. Concerning the origin and legislative background of these provisions, see Kiss, Alexander, " Les Protocoles additionnels aux Conventions de Genéve de 1977 et la protection des biens de I'environnement " , Etudes et essais sur le droit international humanitaire.... op. cit., p. 182 and following; Herczegh, p. 726 and following; Goldblat, op. cit., p. 50 and following; Commentary on the Additional Protocols, op. cit., pp. 411-412, paras. 1444-1447; and Bothe/Solf/Partsch, New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague, 1982, p. 344.

23. On the relationship between these two articles and on their role in the Protocol as a whole, see also Herczegh, op. cit., pp. 729-730; Kiss, op. cit., pp. 184-186; Commentary on the Additional Protocols, op. cit., p. 414, para. 1449 and p. 663, para. 2133; Bothe/Solf/Partsch, op. cit., pp. 344-345. Our comments are also based on a report (to be published) presented on 8 June 1991 by Paul Fauteux at a symposium in Paris on the legal aspects of the Gulf crisis. We are grateful to the author for having provided us with a copy of the report.

24. See Bothe, op. cit., p. 292; Kiss, op. cit., p. 186; Commentary on the Additional Protocols, op. cit., pp. 630-675, paras. 1994-2183.

25. See Commentary on the Additional Protocols, op. cit., pp. 416-417, para. 1454 and pp. 412-420, paras. 1447-1462; Kiss, op. cit., p. 187; and Bothe, op. cit., pp. 291-292.

26. See Commentary on the Additional Protocols, op. cit., pp. 415-416, para. 1452. On these differences of terminology, see also Kiss, op. cit., p. 189.

27. From the purely legal point of view, harmonization should not give rise to any major problems. The terms " long-lasting, widespread and serious " were not defined in the two tre aties themselves and only a very approximate indication of their meaning was given in the proceedings of the Diplomatic Conferences that led to their signature. It should therefore be possible, as concluded by the experts in Ottawa (see note 14), to reach agreement on the meaning of these terms in accordance with the general rules of the law of treaties, in particular Arts. 31 and 32 of the 1969 Vienna Convention.

28. See Kiss, op. cit., p. 184 and Goldblat, op cit ., p. 52.

29. In particular, the promoters of the London symposium on a fifth Geneva Convention (see note 14).

30. See note 14.

31. This suggestion was made at the CDDH, but was not adopted (see Kiss, op. cit., p. 191 and Commentary on the Additional Protocols, op. cit., p. 664, paras. 2138-2139).

32. Two implementation mechanisms of IHL could prove especially useful: (a) the obligation to " respect and ensure respect for " the provisions of IHL, set forth in Art. I common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol I of 1977; and (b) the International Fact-Finding Commission provided for in Art. 90 of Protocol I and set up on 25 June 1991 (on the Commission's role see Krill, Françoise, " The International Fact-Finding Commission " , ICRC, No. 28 1, March-April 1991, pp. 190-207).



In order to discuss the possibility of a Red Cross and Red Crescent role in a strategy for sustainable development, one has to be equipped with a historical perspective. Questions must be answered such as how the environmental issue has been perceived by the Movement, and in what way this perception has been translated into action. Therefore, a review follows of the Movement’s statements on environmental issues as well as of some of its environmental programmes.


2.1 The Movement and the Stockholm Conference
“Environment” as a specific issue seems to have been first mentioned in reports or resolutions from Red Cross bodies around 1970, when the matter was raised by the Health and Social Service Advisory Committee. The Committee’s report relates its discussion of the destructive effects of industrial civilization on nature and the depredations caused by man”, and its conclusion on nature and the depredations caused by man”, and its conclusion that the issue belonged on the Red Cross agenda. It was decided that the League Secretariat should find out from each National Society the role of the respective governments and Societies in the “fight against pollution” as a basis for establishing a Red Cross position on the subject.

The prelude to the issue being raised by the Committee seems to have been the European Regional Red Cross Conference in April 1970. In its resolution no. 3 on “Red Cross Participation in the Improvement of Human Environment”, the Conference considers the serious deterioration of the human environment caused by rapid industrialization and technological development and the acuteness the situation. The Conference deems necessary efforts on a national and international scale to deal with the matter, and asks the League to present proposals for an active Red Cross participation in improving the human environment.

Accordingly, the League’s Health Committee, chaired by Dr. Domanska of the Polish Red Cross, presented a report to the League Board of Governors’ in Mexico in 1971.

In describing the environmental problem, the report focuses on the effects of industrial society on ”the physical and mental health of mankind”. It finds that not only is the influence of noise, air and water pollution on man’s physical well-being of concern, but also the impoverishment of social life in the large industrial towns.

Regarding the Red Cross/Red Crescent role in dealing with environmental problems, the report emphasizes the potential of its voluntary workers, with their “dedication, zeal, generosity and good will”. These should be engaged in action coordinated with other voluntary agencies and – in particular – with the authorities. The auxiliary role of the Red Cross/Red Crescent should not exclude, however, the exertion of “some sort of pressure” on the authorities to undertake measures found necessary by the Society in question.

According to the report, however, the most important contribution of the Red Cross would be suitably adapted health and social development work. Examples given include information to the public on the state of the environment and dissemination of measures to ward off the ill effects of pollution. The Red Cross/Red Crescent is particularly able to deal with the social dimension of environmental problems, for example, by relieving the strain caused by loneliness, disability and old age. In its educational endeavors, the Red Cross/Red Crescent should particularly focus on young people.

The Board of Governors responded to the report by passing a resolution (no 29) on The Red Cross and the problems of the Environment. The resolution recognized the responsibility of the Red Cross to Contribute to the protection and improvement of human living conditions, especially in the medico-social field, and concluded by charging the Secretary General to continue the League’s contribution to the preparation for the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 in order to clarify the Red Cross environmental role. It also identified the need for “concrete planning and leadership within the Red Cross” as regards its participation in environmental improvement. (The resolution’s request that the coming reappraisal of the Red Cross, later known as the “Tansley report”, should take the environmental issue into serious consideration seems to have passed largely unnoticed).

The League’s Secretary General at this time was Henrik Beer. In a personal capacity he had been appointed of the advisory panel to the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in June 1972. The report to the League’s Executive Committee in September 1972 on the follow-up of the Board of Governors’ 1971 environment resolution is, consequently, mostly a report from the Stockholm Conference.

In its conclusion, the report states that, unprecedented in terms of UN conference history, all main Red Cross concern had been discussed: hygiene, health, urban development, population, war, poverty, education, youth, development, disasters etc, demonstrating the intersectoral and interdisciplinary nature of the environmental issue. It concluded that, given the great diversity of environmental problems, priority should be given to the special position of National Societies in developing countries, in order to strengthen their role as government auxiliaries.

A view of the prominent role played by Beer personally in the Stockholm Conference, it is interesting to hear his views as reflected in his statement to the Conference on the Red Cross role and the environmental issue. Beer stated the Red Cross belief in universality as the basis for all humanitarian efforts, implying thereby its relevance for dealing with the issue at hand. He then refers to the traditional role of the organization in counteracting the effects of war which may “be regarded as something aiming at ameliorating one of the worst man-made threats to a decent environment”. Special mention is then made of the work on what came to be the Additional Geneva Protocols, which had just started at that time, and include articles on the protection of the natural environment in war.

According to Beer, the basic tasks of the Red Cross had already been re-defined as a broad effort to improve the human environment. A list of practical examples of environmental action is then given. These include environmental health campaigns, urban social programmes, pre-disaster planning, prevention of accidents and family planning. Beer concludes by saying that the most important task ahead is to create awareness and pressure for reform at all levels of society. In this undertaking, an organization like the Red Cross, with its almost “professional optimism” has a special role to play.

2.2 A Working Party on the Human Environment
The Executive Committee’s reaction to the League report is expressed in its Resolution no 14. This entrusts the environmental issues to a new body, an ad hoc working party under the aegis of the Health Committee, composed of a small number of “especially qualified representative of National Societies”.

The working party was to consist of representatives from the National Societies of Australia, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Hungary, India, Poland and Tunisia. UNEP and the League were also represented at its meetings. The working party’s report to the League’s Board of Governors and the International Red Cross Conference in 1973 was drafted by R. Sztuchlik of the Hungarian Red Cross.

The 44-page report begins with the background to the Working Party’s mission by referring to the Stockholm Conference and its recognition of a decent environment as a fundamental human right. It underlines the relationship and interdependency of environmental and development problems. As for the Red Cross role, this can be clearly deduced from, and justified by, its Principle of Humanity.

Although the Red Cross’ main activities emphasize “improving the health and welfare of man through preventive measure and corrective action”, all aim at improving the human environment. An understanding of the need for a global, ecological approach is now needed. The universal nature of environmental problems makes the Red Cross a suitable actor, the more so in view of the confidence it enjoys from the authorities and the public. The report then suggests guidelines for Red Cross action. These emphasize its role as auxiliary to public authorities and propose that it appropriately concentrate on uncovered needs, giving priority to preventive measures and involving volunteers and youth.

A broad range of possible Red Cross action is then presented under the partly self-explanatory headings of Educating and informing, Channeling and pressing forward, Undertaking specific projects, Giving priority to prevention, Enrolling volunteers and Cooperating with other agencies. Under the second heading is mentioned the potential role of the Red Cross in advocating environmental legislation, by mobilizing public opinion, lobbying and acting as a link between the community, public authorities and industry.

Concerning proposed areas of Red Cross action, emphasis is put on a broad range of preventive health measures both in poor rural and urban environments, including involvement in community planning and housing rehabilitation.

In its outline of methods and models for Red Cross action, the report stresses the point that the organization must act as a catalyst, initiating self-help activities through the use of a problem-solving approach.

The report ends by describing five examples of what is labeled Red Cross environmental projects:

Baltic Sea Project – Finnish Red Cross Youth

University Student Health Programme – Republic of Korea National Red Cross

Anti-Filariarsis Campaign – Republic of Korea National Red Cross

Community Education Plan for the Improvement of Home Life – Peruvian Red Cross

Drug Abuse Education and Rehabilitation Programme – Swedish Red Cross

The report was presented in 1973 to the Board of Governors at its Session in Teheran which, in its ensuing resolution (no 31), repeats the main themes of the report. In a following resolution (no 32) on Working Party on the Human Environment, the working party is upgraded to a Commission, still attached to the Health Committee. The Commission was to be composed in such a way as to ensure that all major regions in the world “likely to share specific environmental problems may be represented”.

2.3 A Commission on the Human Environment
Immediately after the 1973 Board of Governors’ Session, the 22nd International Red Cross Conference became the first Conference to be held since the environmental issue was put on the Red Cross agenda three years earlier. This Conference, the Movement’s highest body, confirmed in its resolution on the Environment (no. 17) that it is an issue of Red Cross concern, “being one of the major problems of our time”, and recommend action at the national level in harmony with Government’ plans as well as pursuit of the matter at an international level.

• training and education, of staff and field workers, in order to improve service to disaster victims

• projects, at field level and aimed at disaster prevention, conducted by Southern Societies or other organizations.

In its final chapter, entitled Ecodevelopment, the report listed a number of technical examples of environmental rehabilitation interventions with a potential disaster prevention impact.

Prevention Better than Cure was, in many ways, a landmark in the literature on disasters and their causes. It has had a great influence on the awareness and debate within and, perhaps even more, outside the Movement. The translation of this awareness into policy and action, however, is a difficult process that is far from complete.


3.1 The 70’s
The records on what Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies understood as environmental activities during the 70’s are found in reports from the Working Party on the Environment to the Board of Governors in 1973, from the Commission on the Environment to the Board of Governors in 1975 and from the Community Services and Development Commission to the Red Cross Conference in 1981. Out of the 16 National Societies mentioned in these reports 11 represented developed and 5 developing countries.

The reports cover a fairly wide range of activities, some of which it is rather surprising to find being labeled as environment projects. Most of them, however, are aimed at informing and educating the public on causes and effects of environmental hazards and how they can be counteracted. Some of these projects were quite ambitious. For instance, in 1973 the Finnish Red Cross launched a nation-wide campaign to highlight the country’s environmental problems, using public debates and exhibitions as the means of action. The campaign focused on the health effects of pollution and was underpinned by a resolution – passed by the Society and given much media attention – criticizing Finland’s “outdated and defective legislation about environmental protection”.

The campaign has unexpected success, in the Society’s own view, because it met an unfilled need and could rely on a strong and nation-wide organizational network that no “traditional” environmentalist group could match.

A slightly similar, independent, role seems to have been played by the Canadian Red Cross Society, which prepared a pedagogical package of high quality to be used by Red Cross Youth and in schools. The package included a teacher’s handbook, booklets, games and posters that all aimed to convey an improved understanding of the environment and its protection.

When one compares different Societies’ educational and awareness crating activities, there seems to be a clear division. It is between those Societies that acted independently relative to their governments, like the Finnish who did not hesitate to take on an advocacy role, and those that were mostly auxiliary to national authorities. In the latter category would be found Societies from centrally planned countries. The Red Cross Society of GDR says of itself that its environmental activities “are integrated in the relevant State-coordinated measures, laid down in specific legal provisions”.

Among specific projects undertaken, several Societies seem to have arranged, or perhaps more often taken part in, cleaning-up campaigns with their volunteers. Societies that report such activities are those of Bulgaria, the Federal Republic of Germany, Sweden and the Philippines.

Some Societies also report preventive health and social programmes as environmental activities. Among such programmes are an anti-filariosis campaign (South Korea), a community education plan for the improvement of home life (Peru) and a drug abuse and rehabilitation program (Sweden).

From the documentation available for this study there is nothing that indicates that “environment” as an issue had a prominent place among the activities of National Societies in the 70’s. This general statement does not exclude the fact that it did play an important role to some Societies for longer periods or to several Societies for limited periods.

3.2. The 80’s
There are two sources that provide an idea of the importance of environmental questions to National Societies during the 80;s. These are Meurant (1984) and Tenna Mengistu (1989) who whiled investigating other issues has studied the relative importance of different activities to a number of Societies. Meurant, who studied the role of volunteers in National Societies, thus found that out of the 61 Societies surveyed, only 3 conducted environment protection programmes in which volunteers took part (pp 64, 71). The programmes in question were characterized as reforestation, cleaning-up work and “quality-of-life camps” (p 73).

Tenna Mengistu, investigating the degree of financial self-reliance of National Societies, established activity profiles for the 41 Societies who replied to his questionnaire. When asked to state their degree of involvement in environmental rehabilitation, two reported their involvement as high, three as fair, 17 as low and 19 as none. All the five Societies reporting a high or fair degree of involvement were African: Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Senegal and Egypt.

For the African Societies reporting a heavy involvement in environmental rehabilitation, tree planting seems to be a major activity, often linked to youth programmes. For instance, in Senegal tree planting youth camps are arranged and in Zimbabwe a nation-wide programme to establish school woodlots is organized by the Red Cross Youth and coordinated with the Government’s campaign to increase environmental awareness among school-children. A programme with a similar objective has been launched by a Society not among those surveyed in Tenna Mengistu’s study, that of Burkina Faso. In a country with a very low schooling rate, the programme tries to convey environmental awareness to children both through formal schools and informal education, such as the Koran schools.

However, among environmental programmes run by African Societies there are none to compare with those of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society in size and complexity. This is particularly the case for the disaster prevention programme in the Wollo province with 400,000 beneficiaries. This programme emerged in the mid 80’s from the Society’s experience of giving relief to victims of a famine that was triggered by drought, but the consequences of which were grimly exacerbated by severe and accelerating environmental degradation.

Reforestations and soil conservation are major components of this programme, which is implemented by government agencies but managed jointly with the Red Cross which funds the programme and provides additional personnel. The programme has gained considerable international attention as and example of how a relief programme provides opportunities for development and how these opportunities can be seized. For discussions of the Wollo programme see Kassaye (1988), Anderson & Woodrow (1989) and Walker (1989). A smaller programme with a similar orientation in Sudan is conducted jointly between the Norwegian Red Cross and the Sudanese Red Crescent.

The experience from the famine in Africa in the 80’s and the discussion of its environmental and ecological dimensions has also influenced the orientation and design of educative projects run by Northern Societies in their own countries. Several Societies, among them the Nordic ones, have produced or sponsored booklets, videos and TV programmes that have focused on issues like deforestation and land degradation in the South.

However, the comment made regarding the relative insignificance of environmental activities for the Red Cross Movement during the 70’s seems to hold also for the 80’s. There are Societies which have a fairly pronounced environmental profile but they are still few in number. This conclusion seems to be strengthened by the fact that very few Societies have “environment professionals” on their staff.

Written by Johan Schaar

Johan also wrote another more detailed paper:

Schaar, Johan, A Shade of Green: Environment Protection as Part of Humanitarian Action, Henry Dunant Institute Working Paper No. 2:90, Geneva, 1990.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Whales, Polar Bears and Muskox

Geoff Carroll: Biologist in Barrow

Biologist Geoff Carroll touches one of the grey whales trapped in the ice near Barrow in 1988. Carroll was part of "Operation Breakthrough," as it was known at the time. Photo courtesy Bill Hess

He has survived two airplane crashes in bush Alaska. He has fought off an angry polar bear with only a jammed-shotgun-turned-baseball-bat. He has driven the most unruly team of dogs to the North Pole and he has looked into the eye of a whale, touched its head, and lived to tell the tale.

What sounds like a script for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" is actually reality for Geoff Carroll, Area Wildlife Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). Geoff runs Fish and Game's one-person office in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in America.

I count Geoff as a valued friend who I met at Point Barrow in 1985 after a 1500 mile dog-sled trip down the Mackenzie River in NWT Canada, across the Arctic Ocean into Alaska US, to Point Barrow.

Canoeing on the Boundary Waters north of Ely, Minnesota with Geoff Carroll (right) Jeff Blumenfeld (left) and my son Ablai McKerrow centre. Earlier Geoff's son Quin and Ablai canoed with their two Dads down a small part of the Mississippi. All 8 members of our successful North Pole Expedition celebrated our 25th in Ely in May 2011.Photo: Bob McKerrow

In 1988 Marie and Geoff Carroll stayed with us in New Zealand and we had a great time as two families.

I will let Candice Bressler tell the rest of the story.

Originally from a ranch near Sheridan, Wyoming, Geoff took a little vacation to Alaska in his early 20s and – like a lot of visitors – Alaska seeped into his blood, and he never really left. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks and graduated with a bachelor of science in wildlife management. His passion was whales, so he traveled to Barrow and started an annual bowhead whale census. He enjoyed the ice work so much that he was a member of a National Geographic sponsored 56-day dog sled expedition to the North Pole. Eventually, he moved to Barrow permanently.

In 1988 – one year prior to coming on-board with ADF&G – Geoff was working for the North Slope Borough’s (NSB) Department of Wildlife Management. Despite not having his character cast a role in the 2012 blockbuster film “Big Miracle,” Geoff played a valuable and essential role in Operation Breakthrough, the international struggle to free three California grey whales trapped in the ice in the Beaufort Sea near Point Barrow.

Geoff first heard about the whales from a local whaler, Roy Ahmaogak, who was out scouting on the sea ice. After hearing the report, a small group, including Geoff, decided to travel by snowmachine on the 30-40 minute journey to the only breathing hole left open in the progressing sea ice. “It was a remarkable situation, like nothing we had seen before. We took a few pictures and thought, since we might not see this again, it might be good to get a video of this,” said Geoff. The group, in amazement, headed back to town and asked the local television station if they could borrow a video camera. The station was hesitant to loan out the camera, instead sending a cameraman and Geoff’s wife Marie, who ran the NSB Information Office, out with the locals. They took footage and did a quick impromptu interview which eventually made its way to Channel 2 in Anchorage. “Somehow it got into the national news and exploded from there. We were surprised when it went international. We had no anticipation of that,” Geoff explained.

Within days, Barrow was transformed from a sleepy secluded village to the bustling backdrop of a dramatic media zoo. In town, visiting journalists and public relations campaigners were scrambling for their next story. Out on the ice, the whales were fighting to survive, taking turns surfacing to breathe as the ice got thicker and the nights grew colder. The whales’ friends on the surface were nothing less than a captive audience. For a whale biologist like Geoff, it was a windfall. Around the world, there are some toothed whales in captivity, but it was a rare instance to have baleen whales to study and interact with for three weeks in one’s back yard. “The opportunity to work with a species of animals you don’t often get to work with up close and personal was really an interesting time for us as biologists,” Geoff described.

As the world scurried to make sense of these events and to try to put into motion a series of creative albeit hapless solutions, Geoff along with other local residents worked with the whales every single day. The one initial breathing hole was getting smaller and smaller each hour. “[Fellow biologist] Craig George came up with the idea to use a chainsaw to make the hole larger for the whales. It was pretty grim watching the hole get smaller and smaller. The only thing that was keeping the hole open was the whales coming up every five minutes and stirring up the water,” Geoff said. It then occurred to them that maybe they could cut another hole. “The whales were really reluctant to leaving their original hole; they saw it as their lifeline.”

Marie Carroll prepares to leave the whales and return home to Barrow by snowmachine. Geoff hands her a shotgun as bear protection. Photo courtesy Bill Hess.

Fortunately, two gentlemen from Minnesota were sitting in their living room watching the story unfold on television, and they saw the plight of the whales. They worked for a company called Kasco Marine which manufactured water circulators. Uninvited and unannounced, they jumped in an airplane and brought their water circulators up to the top of the world. “We noticed the whales were attracted to those circulators. The whales would orient on those things, and they were also attracted to lights.” Geoff and crew began using the circulators and portable lights to train the whales to move from hole to hole. “It was quite a process to teach the whales to move from one hole to the next, but after a few days, the whales learned that it was safe. That was the big victory for us.”

For a whale biologist turned whale-trainer, it seemed like almost non-stop that he was out with the whales. Most of the training took place at night when the media circus had scattered. “I know we would sleep every once in a while, but there was so little sleep that it’s all a blur.” Geoff and his Iñupiaq wife, Marie, also had a brand new baby at home, too. “One night, the 60 Minutes crew showed up at our house at 3:00 o’clock in the morning, and my wife had to go out and read them the riot act and chase them off.” Geoff continues, “The operation was a family effort for us. While a bunch of us were out there cutting holes in the ice and moving the whales along, Marie and the NSB mayor were on the Russian icebreaker trying to keep them from running over the whales.” Geoff was in high demand, by both the media and the whales. He preferred interacting with the whales. “You could get just as close [to the whales] as you wanted. Spending so much time with them, it was like having a pet dog around. You start to feel affection and compassion for them.”

While the U.S. government was trying major herculean efforts like airlifting a hover-barge and negotiating with the Soviets for icebreaker help, Geoff and a handful of other locals were out there getting their hands dirty – and cold. Working together in negative double-digit temperatures with chainsaws and simple tools, they came up with a really clever and effective technique to cut holes about 20 feet wide and 40 feet long for a total of four miles of sprawling holes. The water circulator machines helped keep old holes clear while new holes could be cut. “Eventually the whales were just zipping up and down the line of holes. They were pretty happy with it.” For Geoff, this was the most climatic moment of those exhausting weeks on the ice. “Sure, there was a happy ending in the movie, but in reality, the whales’ fate was up in the air. Nobody ever really knew what happened to them.”

Geoff still loves whales, and he still enjoys ice work. But a lot has changed since 1988. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder of how the climate has changed up here. [The whale rescue] started in the second week of October in 1988, and folks were driving trucks across the ice, and the large ice ridge had already formed. But in recent years it’s largely been open water in that same area until close to Christmas.” In the face of climate change’s complexities, Geoff still has some major challenges at hand.

As ADF&G’s Area Wildlife Biologist, Geoff looks after all the land mammals on 56,000 square miles of the North Slope. To put size in perspective, his territory is an area larger than the entire state of New York. It’s a challenging environment, but rewarding nonetheless. “Our caribou work is absolutely world-class. We do a better job of managing caribou in northern Alaska than any place in the world.” Geoff is quick to equate this success to a team effort. “Ever since I started working for Region 5, we’ve just had this fantastic group of people, really good, knowledgeable area biologists and other staff. The Region 5 staff is like an extended family. For some reason, we’ve always been able to get along really well. One of the greatest joys of working for Fish and Game is working with a totally competent outfit – a totally competent bunch of people.”

The Region 5 "family." From left, Geoff Carroll, Karen Mitchell, Jim Dau (behind Karen), Steve Machida, Tony Gorn, Patrick Jones (center of back row), Charlotte Westing (with baby), Lincoln Parrett, Meghan Nedwick (back row), Travis Booms next to her, Phil Perry in front of Travis, Peter Bente far right, Rob DeLong in front. Photo by Karen Mitchell. Not pictured, Letty Hughes and Sarah Ferguson.

It is clear this whale-training team player has also moved mountains as a staff mentor. When pondering his greatest contribution to ADF&G, he responded, “I took on a student intern named Lincoln Parrett that grew up in Kaktovik and Barrow. He now does a very good job as our Arctic Caribou research biologist and has taken on most of the load for caribou work.” Perhaps one of Geoff’s greatest traits is recognizing potential and coaching it from the get-go – much like he did with his whales, much like he did with his up-and-coming intern.

Tracking Caribou is an important part of Geoff's work. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Geoff modestly explains, “It’s been a good run.” But for the man who – for ninety five percent of the last 20 years – has commuted to the office by skis, bicycle, or skijoring, and has dogsledded to all the villages in Unit 26A (he gets a lot better reception when he shows up by dogsled than by airplane), it’s definitely been more than a ‘good run.’ When he’s not wrangling muskoxen or helping to manage arctic caribou and moose herds, Geoff is a total generalist for his region: selling hunting licenses, staffing the office, and doing public and educational outreach. He is truly a jack of all trades, and just very likely – one of the most interesting men in the world.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Great heights in life of adventure

Ever since I was a teenage mountaineer, I have greatly admired the feats of Jim Dennistoun, a Canterbury man who lived an extraordinary life of adventure and danger.
I was delighted to discover in 1999 that  Guy Mannering of Geraldine, whose father, also named Guy, was a friend and climbing companion of Dennistoun, compiled and published The Peaks and Passes of JRD, using letters, diaries, photographs and notebook entries held by Dennistoun families through three generations. It is a superb book, painstakeingly researched, and one of the most beautifully laid out books I have ever read.
ACTION MAN: Jim Dennistoun (left) climbed mountains, visited Antarctica and went to war.

Therefore I was thrilled to read an article wriiten by Denis Dwyer in the Timaru Herald and published on the other day,

It was a short life lived on an epic scale, in vast and perilous settings – mountain ranges and passes, an ice-blocked sea and frozen continent and the battlefields of World War I.

At the beginning there was the peace and beauty of Canterbury's Peel Forest. That's where Jim Dennistoun was born on March 7, 1883, and spent his early years.

His parents George and Emily had the Peel Forest run. There were three children – Barbara, Jim and George.

Jim was educated at Wanganui Collegiate and Malvern College, England.

After he left school, he took up sheep farming, while his younger brother George went into the navy.

Aoraki Mt. Cook climbed by Jim Dennistoun was one of many peaks he climbed in the Mount Cook National Park. Photo; Bob McKerrow

Beyond Peel Forest were the mountains, which Dennistoun was drawn to from boyhood. He stood atop Little Mount Peel at age 12, Big Mt Peel at 14, Ben Nevis at 15, Ben Lomond at 16 and later a host of peaks including Mt Cook (3754 metres).

He was first to climb Mt D'Archiac (2875m) in Mt Cook National Park, and it was possibly his finest climb.

Undoubtedly his most famous climb, though, was the first known ascent of Mitre Peak, in March 1911.

The 1692m height is deceptively short – the mountain rises almost sheer from Milford Sound and every metre has to be climbed.

The climb was planned during a sea voyage with brother George in the HMS Pioneer in 1909.

But Jim changed his mind when he got there in 1911 and took the route recommended by explorer Donald Sutherland, because he hadn't been able to reconnoitre the other one.

He started climbing at 7.30am with a companion, Joe Beaglehole, who went much of the way, but Dennistoun climbed the last 300m on his own, up steep, smooth slabs of granite. They got back to the boat at 9.45pm, cold, wet and exhausted.

Jim Dennistoun was a great admirer of Dr. Ebenezer Teichelmann (left) the west coast surgeon and mountaineer who he met on a few ocassions and wrote to regularly.

In 1912, Dennistoun joined the Terra Nova, which was going to the assistance of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's expedition in Antarctica. He had been invited by Lieutenant Harry Pennell of the Royal Navy, a visitor to Peel Forest, who happened to mention he wanted someone to take charge of the mules. Pennell could offer no pay, but the adventure was enough for Dennistoun.

The seven Himalayan mules donated by the Indian government arrived at Quail Island in September 1911 and were later joined by 14 Siberian dogs.

Some clothing was provided, but Dennistoun had to supply much of his own.

When the reinforcements arrived in Antarctica, they were used not to make another attempt on the pole, but to join the search party for Scott.

On November 11, 1912, the mules reached the tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers. The Norwegian team of Roald Amundsen had beaten them to the pole by 33 days.

Dennistoun was later awarded the King's Antarctic Medal and the medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

He returned to his farm near Lumsden but did not appear to enjoy his life there, and sold the property in April, 1914.

He had owned his first farm at Hawea for even less time – bought in April 1910 and sold in September 1910.

In July 1914 he bought yet another property, this time at Mangamahu, near Whanganui, but his business partner hadn't seen it. When he did eventually see it, he didn't like it.

In a panic, Dennistoun tried to get out of the deal but couldn't. To his relief, he found other partners.

On the outbreak of World War I, Dennistoun worked his way to England as the deckhand on a steamer and obtained a commission in the North Irish Horse.

He went to the front in November 1915 and for some months was intelligence officer to a division. Then he joined the Royal Flying Corps. Brother George was by this time a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy.

On a bombing sortie over Germany, Dennistoun was observer and bomb thrower in a biplane being flown by his cousin, Herbert Russell, when their plane was shot and went down in flames.

Russell was able to flatten the plane out enough to avoid a nose dive. Both were thrown out on landing.

A doctor dressed their wounds and they were taken to hospital. Dennistoun was seriously wounded and had two operations. He was told that if his third was successful, he would recover.

One of the nurses, Lili Eidam, spoke English and, sympathetic and kind-hearted, took notes while Dennistoun dictated and wrote to his mother.

On August 9, 1916, he had the third operation at a hospital at Ohrdruf. Afterwards he became suddenly weak and died. He was buried at Niederzwehren Cemetery at Kassel in Hessen. Russell survived.

Dennistoun's name lives on in the annals of Scott's expedition and in war records, and also in the high country of New Zealand, which he loved so much.

An unnamed peak (2315m) opposite Mt D'Archiac was named in tribute to him. There is also a pass and a glacier.

Exquisite St Stephen's Church at Peel Forest has a stained glass window that commemorates father George and son Jim, donated by Jim's mother, Emily, in 1923.

The face of St Michael is a portrait of Jim and in the bottom pane is a small representation of Mitre Peak.

thanks to for permission to use extracts from this article.