Although the destruction of oil fields in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 riveted public attention on war and the environment, this was neither the first nor the largest act of environmental warfare in history. In terms of loss of life and geographic area affected, probably the largest scale act of environmental warfare in history was the breaching of the Huang He (Yellow River) levees by the Nationalist Chinese in June 1938. Detailed information about this event has only recently become available in English, and even today information is sketchy. The breach was an attempt to slow down the westward advance of the Japanese army south of the Huang He. It was marginally successful from a military standpoint but caused enormous loss of life as a result of direct flooding, disease, and famine. Official Chinese figures place the death toll at over 800,000.

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