Since the beginning of civilization, war has devastated countries: economically; socially; of course environmentally. In these places, civil wars, world wars, and everything else in between has physically and emotionally altered life as we know it.
These conflicts have had damaging environmental impacts in many countries; fighting has led to the alteration of plant and wildlife species. Yet while human and non-human life has been forever changed in these areas, post and current conflict sites have seen incredible ecological and species growth, which could lead to future benefits.
The demilitarization zone between the Koreas, or DMZ, for instance, is riddled with landmines and checkpoints for civilians and military personnel, and is caught between the divide of the Northern and Southern parts of the peninsula. Within the DMZ is a landscape known as the Dragon Moors, the only alpine wetland in Korea. Explored by the first American journalist, James Card, in 2008, instead of reporting horrors typically assigned to the region, this correspondent instead focused on the beauty that exists in the DMZ. Plant species unknown to other parts of the Korean Peninsula have lived in peace for years; natural beauty survives with little interference and rarely seen animal species are free to roam.
In a different region, Varosha, a city in Cyprus, Greece, once a spectacle of arts and culture, was invaded by Turkish forces in 1974. Residents were forced out, ultimately creating the ghost town seen today, with a strict travel ban placed on people coming in and out until 2003. Among the remnants of what used to be, infrastructure is collapsing, but new life continues to grow. In the book The World Without Us, author Alan Weisman describes the world if humanity vanished, and what the results would look like from an ecological perspective. The picture painted in that novel is precisely what has occurred in Varosha: greenery has taken the place of building columns, flowers blossom, and the grass is greener in this once densely populated region.
Both of these territories share the stories of war on their shores, for different reasons and at different times. Destruction has plagued them, but something else in common gives hope: essentially left alone by humankind, ecological diversity and wildlife have thrived.
In other post-conflict sites, ecological resurgence has occurred, but animal life has been the premier beneficiary. In Mozambique, where civil war ravaged the country between 1977-1992, an estimated 90-99% of the large mammal population was lost as the country fell into severe poverty. Since the end of the conflict, however, the country has been able to recover most of the individual populations of each mammal species. Over 80% of wildlife is estimated to be recovered since the war without bringing in many species from other locations.
These postwar areas symbolize more than just an alteration of life. To some, these sites represent hope. There is a beauty in knowing that life can return to deserted, former military-ridden land. These areas have potential to be used for future peace and conservancy; but with this hope comes challenges.
In the DMZ and Varosha, the military remains in control of the land, leaving much of it un-intervened, with limited access to civilians and conservationists. Until recently, the soldiers stationed in the DMZ were known to hunt pheasants with military weapons and use grenades to fish, while the land in and around Varosha is an origin of tension between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, creating a stalemate of how to utilize the land. These issues have created a call for conservationists and environmentalists to fight for the beauty and preservation of these areas.
In parallel, as North and South Korea disagree on the potential of the DMZ, some scientists and government officials hope to make it a biosphere reserve that would protect it from being developed into a tourist attraction. In Varosha, Vasia Markides began “The Famagusta Ecocity Project,” in hopes of turning this site into a place where humans and nature can live together in harmony, thus creating actual peace among conflicting sides.
These post-conflict sites bring high amounts of environmental potential, but so much work is yet to be done. The DMZ has not truly been explored due to the ongoing conflict in the Korean Peninsula, and the Famagusta Project is just beginning to make waves, with a documentary scheduled for release in 2020. But while more is to be done to explore the beauty and true benefits of these areas, they still stand as a symbol of hope, life, and peace in areas that were once void of such things.
For The Yucatan Times
Dylan Volpintesta is an experienced educator focused on building community and a civically, environmentally engaged society.
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