|The Environmental Impact of Sudden Population Displacements - Expert Consultation on Priority Policy Issues and Humanitarian Aid (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters - European Commission Humanitarian Office, 1995, 101 p.)|
Over 90 % of the funds of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) are allocated to alleviate suffering in areas of conflict. In internal conflicts, which constitute the bulk of wars today - military victory has become but one objective. Systematic efforts are made to disempower the opposition, to deny it an identity, and to undermine its ability to maintain political and economic integrity.
Modern conflicts involve widespread physical violence against civilians, and against the basic resources on which people depend for survival. This has led to massive population displacements, with over 40 million people today being either refugees or internally displaced. Where it has been involved, the international community has traditionally reacted to such population displacements by intervening with humanitarian assistance.
However, the increasing frequency and complexity of the emergencies that lead to and follow displacement are prompting donors to take a harder look at the efficiency of relief. It is clear, for example, that the ad hoc provision of food and medicines does very little to tackle the environmental consequences of displacement. Relief as currently implemented, rarely considers the environment, which is a critical element for long term development. Indeed, and I am sure you will agree with me, in some cases, relief has even been counter-productive.
Total Commission aid to refugees and internally displaced in 1995 amounted to well over 500 million ECU. Countries such as Tanzania, Mozambique, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and Liberia are requiring the greatest share of Commission funds. Additional funds, of course, are provided bilaterally by the Member States of the European Union.
The importance the Commission places upon this expert consultation, therefore, is clear. The Commission has already taken several steps in seeking to further improve the overall impact its relief efforts. Among other initiatives, the Commission established the ECHO Disaster Preparedness Programme in 1994. Since its inception, the Programme has focused on three main strategies for disaster preparedness. These are:
- human resource development,
- support to community-based, low-cost disaster preparedness and prevention technology; and
- strengthening management and institutional preparedness structures for increased response capabilities in emergencies.
All of these strategies are critical for the effectiveness of relief. Furthermore, I believe they are also critical elements to be considered in establishing sustainable and practicable approaches for the implementation of environmentally sound relief operations.
Preparedness is critical, as the degree of surprise determines the ability of national host governments and the international community, to limit the environmental impact of sudden population displacements.
To conclude, I would like to stress two interlinked points. First, no-matter how relief interventions are designed, they are bound to be either insufficient to meet immediate needs, or they suffer delays in delivery. Second, and consequently, in our efforts to find ways to enhance preparedness, let us not forget that in preparedness as well, sustainable solutions will emerge only if the environmental problems identified are seen to have causes and solutions rooted on the community level.
formerly Head of Unit, ECHO/3