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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
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Extracts from General Background Paper
View the document2. Extracts from Opening Speech
View the document3. Extracts from Background Paper
View the document4. Extracts from Statement
View the document5. Extracts from Introduction
View the document6. Extracts from Background Paper
View the document7. Extracts from Introduction
View the document8. Extracts from Background Paper
View the document9. Extracts from Case Study
View the document10. Extracts from Case Study
View the document11. Extracts from Introduction
View the document12. Extracts from Background Paper
View the document13. Extracts from Introduction
View the document14. Extracts from Background Paper
View the document15. Extracts from Case Study
View the document16. Extracts from Introduction
View the document17. Extracts from Background Paper
View the document18. Extracts from Case Study
View the document19. Extracts from Case Study
View the document20. Extracts from Presentation and Demonstration of “PEKO PE”
View the document21. Extracts from Case Study
View the document22. Extracts from Introduction
View the document23. Extracts from Background Paper
View the document24. Extracts from Background Paper
View the document25. Extracts from Closing Speech

18. Extracts from Case Study


Gus Le Breton


* The refugee programme in Zimbabwe lasted 10 years, from 1984 to 1994.

* There were 150,000 refugees in five fully enclosed refugee camps. Another 100,000 plus Mozambicans, not with refugee status, were spontaneously settled in communal and commercial farming areas along the country’s eastern border with Mozambique.

* The environmental impact of these refugee camps was severe, if localized, and manifested itself primarily in the form of deforestation. In a study conducted at the programme’s conclusion, based on a combination of aerial photo-interpretation, random soil and vegetation sampling and rapid rural appraisal exercises with host communities, it was estimated that 12,000 hectares of forest were completely cleared around the camps during this period, and a further 12,000 hectares saw their tree density reduced from approximately 4,000 trees per hectare to less than 1,000.

* Based on a six month period of participatory research and field trials, the Consortium undertook a two and a half year programme that had the following components:

i) distribution of fuel-saving stoves

ii) afforestation and controlled regeneration of remaining woodlands in and around the refugee camps

iii) environmental training and awareness-raising amongst refugees and local population


Woodland management outside the camp

Work with local population

Refugees have almost on incentive to become involved in any form of afforestation/woodland management activities outside the camps. It was opted to work exclusively with local Zimbabwean communities, and although there were still problems, in that the local population was reluctant to undertake management activities whilst the refugees were still in situ, it was generally an effective approach.

Adopt a developmental approach

This was initially not the case, and the situation improved dramatically when such an approach was adopted. It enabled to draw extensively on the lessons from social forestry and community-based natural resource management activities in the region. The result was a programme that:

¨ began with village level participatory appraisal and planning exercises, from which village level woodland management strategies were drawn up

¨ directed more attention to process and less to outputs

¨ paid particular attention to institutional strengthening and capacity-building

¨ built on existing indigenous technical knowledge

Regeneration is quicker than planting

Indigenous woodland can be made to regenerate very quickly under an appropriate management regime. This primarily involves controlling harvesting techniques (i.e. coppicing, pollarding, pruning) so that the regenerative capacity of a tree is not harmed, and patterns, so that excessively stressed woodland is given time to recuperate. The strategy adopted by most of the local communities was to create some areas in which harvesting was permanently forbidden (e.g. sacred areas) - these had the incidental effect of acting as a genetic seed bank for further, especially post-repatriation, regeneration, some areas in which limited harvesting was allowed and some that were essentially open-access to the refugees. This of course worsened the pressure on those areas that were open access, but at the same time, by limiting the refugee access and strengthening the control of the local population over harvesting, refugee consumption did appear to both decline and be less destructive.

The importance of economic incentives to communities

Community-based natural resource management programmes throughout the region have repeatedly shown that the incentives for sustainable woodland management lie in tangible economic benefits and clear access to such benefits by local communities (i.e. through entrenched tenurial rights). Therefore the focus was put on providing technical and financial (through facilitating access to loan finance) support to individual or community enterprise based on sustainable woodland use (bee-keeping, crafts, plant-oils, indigenous fruits, medicinal plants, alcohol extraction etc.). However, before such support must be given, a detailed environmental impact assessment must be undertaken to ensure that, if such enterprises were successfully replicated on a large scale, they would be environmentally sustainable.

The importance of working through existing governmental/NGO extension services

To be sustainable, any technical support for woodland management activities in local communities must work through existing extension agencies. This may require work to reorient extensionists to recognize the value of indigenous technical knowledge, supporting existing examples of good practice, strengthen traditional tenurial rights to woodland and woodland products, and to appreciate the range of opportunities for supporting woodland regeneration.

Conflict resolution

Conflicts between refugees and local people over scarce natural resources are an obvious cause of increased levels of degradation. Initially, this was seen as a symptom rather than a contributory factor to deforestation. Once this error recognized, the organization was able to establish joint management committees of refugees and local population, ostensibly formed to oversee all joint environmental management activities, but really aimed at providing a forum for areas of conflict to be discussed and resolved. The committees comprised elders and, from the local communities at least, traditional leaders. What helped greatly was the fact that, in some camps, the refugees and the local population were from the same ethnic group. This meant that, through these joint committees, the refugees recognized the legitimacy of the local chief as the land manager for the area, and thereafter submitted to his authority on all matters relating to resource use. The chief was then able to control harvesting patterns, and to fine any abusers. Conflict resolution, in the form of bringing local population and refugees together to discuss areas of mutuel concern, is an essential prerequisite for any mitigative programmes.


Incentives for refugees to participate in environmental rehabilitation activities is a real problem. In Zimbabwe, it was hampered by a thoroughly counter-productive incentives policy that saw all refugees involved in training schemes being rewarded by the provision of “incentives”. This needs to be established at the outset of a refugee programme. Where refugees are employed as labourers, they should be waged; where refugees are participating in a training programme, they should not be waged. This would allow for refugees to be employed as nursery attendants, tree guards and forestry extension workers without interfering in training activities. Whilst refugees do not have obvious incentives for working outside the enclosed camps, there are certainly many inside, where trees planted around a homestead are the clear property of that homestead. Benefits include nutritional supplements, shade, live fencing to mark out plots, and soil stabilization to keep down dust. That the refugees realized these benefits in Zimbabwe was made clear by the fact that many “second generation” refugees arrived with live cuttings of trees to plant around the homestead. This is where central nurseries, supported by limited technical extension (not much is needed) to individual homesteads can make big differences. It is obviously important to focus on quick-growing species e.g. papaya.

Environmental awareness raising

This is an area where a fairly fundamental mistake has been made, from which partners could learn. It was assumed that the problem was “education”, which led into a range of inappropriate educational activities, with groups of women refugees, with schoolchildren, and when that failed, with schoolteachers.

Refugees are generally rural people; they know how to manage their environment, and the reasons that they are not doing so sustainably have nothing to do with a lack of knowledge. The issue is awareness: awareness of the likely length of their stay in the camps (this might contradict current refugee policy), awareness of options for environmental protection measures within camps (e.g. simple things like planting in run-off sites, something they may not have needed to do before), and in the case where technological solutions are offered, awareness of the possible benefits such technology could bring. We found the most effective means of awareness raising, particularly where literacy levels are low, involved traditional communication media, e.g. dance-drama, role play, story telling. There is much to be learned in this field from health promoters, who have been using these methods for many years.

Reducing fuel wood consumption

Although it was too late to reverse a process that had been going on for many years, the most effective way to limit consumption of fuel wood for cooking is undoubtedly to have all cooking undertaken centrally on fuel-efficient high mass stoves. This is cheap, and figures show clearly that daily consumption is reduced by at least 80% under this regime. There are, of course, significant implications for basic human rights of refugees in terms of using stoves, but it would also be possible, if such a system were introduced from the outset, to serve at least some meals centrally. This also has the advantage of ensuring that refugees do not sell all their food for luxury items, and get at least one square meal a day.

However, there was also evidence to indicate that, when refugees are using less of the wood that they have collected for cooking, they become more profligate in terms of other uses (heating, lighting). Therefore, centralized cooking (assuming this caters for all meals a day) should be accompanied by:

· fuel wood supply to central kitchen

· provision of an additional supply to households for heating/lighting - say 1/2 kg per person per day

· enforce a complete ban on all fuel wood collection

· finally, of course, supply of fast cooking foodstuffs

There is a lot of institutional knowledge, particularly amongst local NGOs, on appropriate strategies for promoting sustainable natural resource management. Policy-makers and implementors within the refugee field should be actively seeking to forge partnerships and linkages with these institutions. Similarly, there is a growing body of knowledge within the NGO sector on refugee-related environmental management, despite the fact that few have had long-term and continued involvement, especially after the end of a refugee situation. Continue to involve them, use them, and build on their knowledge. That is how the wheels get improved, and not reinvented.