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close this bookEnvironmentally-Induced Population Displacements and Environmental Impacts Resulting from Mass Migrations (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) / Alto Comisionado de Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR), 1996, 128 p.)
close this folderExtracts of Main Contributions
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View the document1. Extracts from General Background Paper
View the document2. Extracts from Opening Speech
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View the document4. Extracts from Statement
View the document5. Extracts from Introduction
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View the document20. Extracts from Presentation and Demonstration of “PEKO PE”
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View the document25. Extracts from Closing Speech

5. Extracts from Introduction


Prof. Edwin A. Gyasi


Population displacements have increased world-wide within and among nations. People get displaced for various reasons. Some are forced out by real or imagined political and cultural threats such as civil wars and religious and ethnic persecution. Others may move, migrate or get displaced because of low incomes, unemployment, poverty, famine and other such dire economic circumstances borne out of various factors such as government policy failure, political instability and degradation of the life-supporting environmental resources. Population displacements do not appear to be inherently disadvantageous. It may enhance socio-economic situation by reducing pressure on land in the source area. Development in the destination area may be stimulated by greater utilisation of its natural resources and other opportunities through the labour, skills, enterprise and capital of the displaced. However, population displacement could retard development in the source area by depriving it of human and capital resources, and by relocating such resources elsewhere, especially in a few urban centres, thereby widening spatial disparities in development. It may worsen living conditions by overcrowding, unemployment, environmental pollution and over stressing of natural and infrastructural resources, and by social tension, conflicts and vices such as crime and prostitution in the destination centres. These adverse effects are increasing owing, in no small measure, to environmental degradation, hence the need for measures to prevent those human displacements that cause them, most especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions, where the phenomenon of ‘environmental refugees’ or ‘environmental migrants’ has assumed the most alarming dimensions.

Preventive action

Preventive action must necessarily focus on the causes rather than the symptoms of environmentally-induced population displacements. In this respect, we recommend as follows:

1. Policy: Countries have formulated or are in the process of formulating National Environmental Action Plans (NEAP), National Population Policies (NPP), National Agricultural and/or Rural Development Programmes (NAP/NRDP) and Integrated National Development Plans (INDP), all embodying policies and action plans for promoting favourable conditions for human habitation. A real challenge is the strengthening of national capacities for translating policy inspired development plans into sustainable real action programmes through institutional capacity building, training and extension, most especially at the grassroots.

2. Jobs: A key to preventing environmentally-induced population displacements is jobs. Promising, in this respect, are jobs and incomes generated on the basis of environmental rehabilitation and improvement programmes, and on the basis of projects founded on local resources, through a participatory community-based bottom-up strategy with Gos and NGOs playing a central role, to enhance sustainability.

3. Early Warning Systems: Preventive measures can only hope to be effective, if they are based on accurate and timely information on emerging adverse climatic, edaphic, biotic, hydrological, agro-ecological and other such biophysical changes that precipitate population displacements. Thus, it becomes imperative to strengthen the capacities for early environmental warning, through the development of early warning facilities such as satellite remote sensing, modern weather stations and other monitoring mechanisms, and to strengthen the capacity for storage, retrieval, analysis and dissemination of the information so gathered, making use of GIS, radio, TV and other modern means of communication. Similar capacities must be developed to generate information for pre-empting explosion of social and political conflicts likely to induce massive human exodus.

4. Co-operation and integration: Often, the problem is not one of lack of institutions and programmes for preventing displacements as is commonly assumes, but rather a lack of institutional co-operation and of activity or programme integration. The issue then become one of institutional and programme harmonization.

5. Research: Environmentally-induced population displacements is a dynamic process. Its causes vary, and it keeps on changing its form, trajectory and impacts, hence the need for strengthened capacity for sustainable research into this insidious form of human dislocation, to inform preventive action.

6. Education: Lastly, but not the least, is the need to foster public awareness of the hazards of mass human displacements, and of the need to prevent such hazards by popular education of civil tolerance and responsible and sustainable management of the environment.


Policy-inspired development planning to prevent environmentally-induced population displacements, has, far too often, been characterized by rhetoric and preciously little action. Now is the time to intensify action through concerted global effort, massively funded by the richer countries of the North, along the lines of the Marshall Plan, to avert a looming and, in many instances, a real catastrophe of environmentally-induced population displacements, most especially in the poorer countries of the South.