The trade publication Greenwire delivers this treat today about UN peacekeeping forces, excerpted for your reading pleasure. Go ahead. Read this and tell me you’re surprised:
UNITED NATIONS: Environmental demands grow for peacekeeping troops
UNITED NATIONS — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit today to Goma, a city in the heart of the war ravaging the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is meant to draw attention to renewed U.S. support for U.N. peacekeeping and to press thinly stretched troops deployed there to do more to protect innocent civilians.
But how much more can overburdened peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere be expected to do? Increasingly — and controversially — they find themselves busy doing environmental cleanups, climate change mitigation projects and providing relief from natural disasters on top of their security duties.
For example, troops with MONUC — the French acronym assigned to the U.N. Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — have spent time planting trees in their area of operation, a scene repeated at other peacekeeping operations in Africa, East Timor, Lebanon and elsewhere.
“MONUC was one of the biggest missions involved in planting the trees, but we have this 1 billion tree campaign, and most of the missions were involved in this reforestation effort,” explained Edmond Mulet, assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations at U.N. headquarters. “On the issue of environment, we are also very much involved in that.”
…”This is an emerging trend, but one that is still at an early stage,” said Richard Gowan, an associate director at the Center on International Cooperation, a think tank at New York University that often advises U.N. officials on peacekeeping. “It’s combining hearts and minds and humanitarian outreach with, shall we say, the new vogue of environmental priorities.”
Critics out to discredit the U.N. system often point to instances in which peacekeepers seemed incapable of defending civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, the Central African Republic and elsewhere from marauding rebels or lawless government forces.
The recent tree-planting endeavor, which the U.N. Environment Programme touted as part of the fight against global warming, only fueled criticism, and some worry that the growing trend toward using peacekeepers to do things other than keeping the peace could lead to real problems down the road….
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