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How wars affect a country’s ability to meet sustainability goals

15 January 2024

Professor Dr Sabih G. Khisaf explains how war obstructs sustainable development.

How wars affect a country’s ability to meet sustainability goals
Infrastructure, such as schools, becomes a target during wars. Image credit: Shutterstock

War is a tragic and destructive event that leaves a lasting impact on society.

One of the major casualties of warfare is civil infrastructure, which includes roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and other essential assets.

This destruction not only obstructs immediate relief efforts, but also has long-term implications for sustainability and the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).

Infrastructure becomes a target

During times of conflict, civil infrastructure assets often become prime targets.

Strategic bombings and attacks can cause severe damage to roads, bridges, and transportation infrastructure, disrupting the flow of goods, services, and humanitarian aid.

Schools and hospitals, critical for the wellbeing of communities, are often destroyed or rendered inoperative, leaving populations vulnerable and without access to essential services.

The destruction of infrastructure also leads to the displacement of people, creating a refugee crisis and further burdening neighbouring counties.

Far-reaching consequences

The destruction of civil infrastructure assets has far-reaching consequences that extend beyond the immediate aftermath of war.

It disrupts economic activities, making it harder for communities to recover and rebuild.

The lack of functioning infrastructure hinders trade, limits job opportunities, and stifles economic growth.

This, in turn, affects the overall wellbeing and prosperity of a nation, hindering its ability to achieve sustainability and the UNSDGs.

Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

How war affects the SDGs

The UNSDGs, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, provide a framework for global development, aiming to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, and tackle climate change.

However, in the wake of wars, achieving these goals becomes increasingly challenging.

Goal 3: Good health and wellbeing

The destruction of hospitals and healthcare facilities during wars severely impacts the provision of healthcare services.

This impedes progress towards ensuring universal health coverage and reducing maternal and child mortality rates.

Goal 4: Quality education

Schools and educational institutions are often targeted during wars, denying children and young adults’ access to education.

Rebuilding education infrastructure becomes crucial for achieving inclusive and quality education for all.

Goal 9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure

Wars destroy existing infrastructure and hinder efforts to build sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

Reconstructing damaged assets and creating new ones becomes a priority, but it requires substantial financial resources, time, and expertise.

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

The destruction of urban infrastructure disrupts communities and hampers efforts to create sustainable cities.

Rebuilding cities that are resilient to future conflicts and disasters becomes essential to ensure safe and inclusive urban environments.

Addressing the consequences of war

Wars have profound implications for sustainability and the UNSDGs.

Rebuilding and restoring infrastructure in war-torn regions is a complex and challenging task.

It requires international cooperation, financial resources, and a long-term commitment to ensure that affected communities can recover, rebuild, and progress towards achieving sustainable development.

By addressing the immediate consequences of war and investing in resilient infrastructure, we can lay the foundation for a better, more sustainable future for all.

How can civil engineers make a difference?

While war situations may appear devastating, civil engineers have the potential to make a significant positive impact by:

  • prioritising safety
  • embracing innovation
  • collaborating with local communities
  • adopting sustainable practices
  • fostering interdisciplinary partnerships
  • maintaining resilience

In doing this, civil engineers can enhance their effectiveness in seemingly helpless war situations.

It’s through their dedication, resourcefulness, and commitment to improving the lives of those affected by war that civil engineers can truly make a difference.

  • Professor Dr Sabih Khisaf, infrastructure lead MENA region at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc.