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By Wim Zwijnenburg (PAX/Bellingcat) @wammezz

in collaboration with David Jensen (UN Environment) @davidedjensen

The revolution in space-based technologies is creating a wealth of opportunities to track environmental degradation and its impact on lives and livelihoods. From rapid urbanisation to climate change to industrial incidents, satellites and sensors are capturing these challenges in an unprecedented manner. A lesser known problem is the devastating environmental damage caused by wars and armed conflicts. …

Using satellite imagery in journalism becomes mainstream

A guest blog post by Wim Zwijnenburg

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Oil storage burning at Fida oil farm, Libya (Pierre Markuse)

The direct and long-lasting impacts of wars and armed conflicts on the environment, and subsequently on human health, has long remained an ignored and under-reported issue. Largely, this was due to the difficulty to identify, assess and monitor conflicts due to security issues during ongoing wars. But also partly because of a lack of knowledge on the long-term consequences for civilians affected by conflict pollution and the time it takes for health issues to manifest themselves. The handful of examples that did hit the news were often related to major catastrophic events, such as the burning of 600 oil wells in Kuwait. …

Military build-up in northern Iraq

Tensions between the Iraqi army, its associated Popular Mobilisation Units and Kurdish Peshmerga are mounting since the former overtook Kirkuk in October 2017 and moved further into Kurdish controlled territory. The move by the Iraqi army forced the Kurdish troops to retreat to the pre-2014 borders and give up some of the disputed territories under their control. Since then, there have been a number of violent incidents between Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army or the PMUs. Both sides have been accusing of building up military forces around vital strategic areas.

In November 2017, Kurdish sources leaked 4 gigabyte of satellite imagery to Iraqi Oil Report (and other news outlets) on Iraqi defences north west of Mosul. The images showed a massive build-up of heavy weaponry in the area, including tanks, artillery, Katusha missile batteries and large calibre mortars. …

The destruction brought upon Syria and Iraq in the last six years has left deep scars throughout these countries’ urban and rural landscapes. As part of our ongoing work to monitor conflict-related environmental damage and related health and social-economic cost for communities, PAX has been tracking attacks on the oil infrastructure of these war-torn states.

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Operation Inherent Resolve footage of a strike against an oil wellhead, Syria, 2016

In northern Iraq and a large part of eastern Syria, oil resources have played an important developmental role prior the war. This resulted in the build-up of significant oil infrastructure throughout these countries, including refineries, wellheads, pumping jacks, pipelines, storage and transportation facilities.

After the war in Syria broke out, all warring parties scrambled to acquire or hold access to oil-related infrastructure and its relevant transportation routes. Crude and refined oil have provided major financial revenues to keep the war machine up and running. As time passed, expert oil workers fled and the oil infrastructure itself became a target by either the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve — -which targeted oil sites controlled by the so-called Islamic State — -or by the Russian Air Force. In other locations, armed groups attacked oil facilities or destroyed these sites, for example the Shareer gas field in Syria as well as the Qayyarah and Hamrin oil fields in Iraq. …


Wim Zwijnenburg

|Drones & robots| Arms Trade | Conflict & Environment| Middle East| Cyber security| views are my own. Project leader @

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