War is hell — and not just for human beings. A team of researchers from the U.N. Environment Programme is headed to Afghanistan to measure the ecological damage of decades of war, drought, famine, and more war. The study, which is part of a relatively new trend of analyzing the effects of human conflict on the natural world, will be the first environmental assessment of any sort to take place in Afghanistan in 25 years. The UNEP team will tally the damage done to everything from forests to water supplies to endangered species. However, its work will be complicated by the remoteness of the landscape, the country’s varying topography (from towering mountains to arid sand dunes), and ongoing safety threats. Environmental scientists anticipate depressing findings: “The groundwork has been laid for an environmental disaster,” said wildlife biologist Peter Zahler.

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