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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

7. Extracts from Introduction


Dr. Adrian Wood


This is probably the most important current area of action and involvement with respect to the displacement of people and was frequently mentioned in the introductory statements to this Symposium. But just what does mitigation mean, what sort of actions does mitigation include, and who needs to be involved? First it is essential to identify the meaning of mitigation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it means reducing the severity of a phenomenon, and is most commonly used with reference to reducing negative impacts which are created. Hence with respect to environmentally-induced population displacements it refers to both:

1. reducing the scale of the phenomenon of displacement itself, in other words reducing the overall or net amount of displacement, and

2. reducing the impacts effects which the displacement of people causes.

Mitigation is relevant to situations where movement is already on-going and where there is a need to reduce the flow and the negative results which it produces. In this situation, mitigation often has to be introduced at short notice; it can be a form of “fire-fighting” because prevention was not possible or has failed. But it should not involve an set of ad hoc measures developed at short notice, what might be called a knee-jerk reaction. Rather, mitigative measures should be thought about seriously, and planned, so that they are effective and efficient.

Extent of the action required

Mitigating the Effects of Displacement

With respect to the most common use of the term mitigation, where attention is given to reducing the negative effects which the displacement of people causes, we must ask questions about:

- what types of impacts might need to be addressed,
- where might these impacts occur
- what and who might be affected,
- over what period of time mitigation might be necessary, and
- which people and organizations should be involved in the mitigative actions.

Types of impacts

At this meeting the concern is primarily with environmental impacts, especially the direct impacts upon the environment which displaced people make to meet their daily needs. However, it should be recognized that there are also indirect impacts because of the social and economic pressures which the displaced people create. These may in turn affect land use systems and the environment. Such impacts are often the result of, or are worsened by poverty, and so the way in which displacement affects the economic welfare of the migrants as well as people in the areas where they settle should be addressed.

Areas where impacts may occur

The destination is usually the major area of concern with respect to mitigation and certainly needs much attention. However, there can be impacts in other areas because of displaced people. For instance, along the route which they travel displaced people in transit may have impacts, especially through the dissemination of disease. Also in the source area which they leave there may be impacts as land use systems suffer from a shortage of people for appropriate management. In neighbouring areas the resettlement one, there may be impacts through economic or ecological linkages. A current example is the downstream and up-slope impacts of wetland drainage by environmental refugees moved from the northern highlands of Ethiopia to the south-west in the mid 1980s.

What and who might be affected?

While the focus of this meeting is on the environment in the areas affected by displaced people, it should be recognized that impacts can affect both the migrants and the local people. Both groups require attention as failure to recognize the changing situation of each in relation to the other may lead to conflicts. In addition it should be recognized that socio-economic processes, as well as environmental ones require attention even when the focus is upon the environment, because, as is well known, poverty and economic pressures are often driving forces behind misuse of natural resources.

Time period for mitigation activities

While mitigation usually refers to the immediate impacts which displaced people cause, it should be remembered that the impacts of displacement may occur over a long period of time. The problems with wetland drainage in south-west Ethiopia have only just begun to appear some ten years after the settlers arrived. Similarly, some of the problems faced by the locals and settlers in the resettlement areas established in Zambia after the Kariba Dam was constructed are now becoming serious because population growth and economic adjustment have put new pressures upon systems of land use which those planning the resettlement thought acceptable.

Who should be involved in mitigation?

It is dear that many actors can be involved in mitigation activities. While external emergency agencies may be most active on the ground in the initial stages, it is important that local government authorities are brought into mitigative processes as early as possible. In addition, mitigative measures can be undertaken by those who are displaced and those who are affected by displacement, with or without external support. Where local involvement is possible it will help ensure the sustainability of mitigative action, and where the degree of external support can be minimized it will help reduce the risks of dependence.

When considering mitigative measures it is necessary to take a holistic view, looking in depth at all the physical locations or areas with which displaced people are involved, directly and indirectly. In addition, it is important to understand the socio-economic, political and ecological systems in each of these areas as any external interventions may have important implications for these systems, for example, changing the dynamics of farming systems, environmental management.

Finally, under this heading, it is also necessary to recognize that advance planning, in a strategic manner, is the best way to approach mitigation of the negative impacts of displaced people. However, the experience with this is very variable as support for the resettlement of displaced people has often been poor and ineffective when imposed by government authorities. This raises the question of participation, by displaced people and local communities in the planning of such support measures.

Mitigating Displacement

Mitigation to reduce the net flow of people resulting from a displacement process links closely with some prevention and rehabilitation activities in the source area which may reduce the original outflow as well as encourage return flows.

In addition to the usual discussions about environmental rehabilitation to facilitate people remaining in, or returning to their home areas to practice their existing way of life, it is necessary to pay increased attention to economic diversification and economic development as ways of addressing some of the problems created by environmental degradation. Environmental rehabilitation is often a long-term measure and may not be able to keep pace with population growth. Hence attention may need also to be directed to the development of alternative ways of making a living in the source areas so that displacement does not occur or return is possible. In such development initiatives, analyses will have to be undertaken to identify the underlying forces which have led to the displacement of people and address these problems either directly or through the creation of alternative livelihoods which are not affected by the problems.

The potential for return migration from areas to which displaced people have moved also needs to be considered under activities to mitigate the net displacement effect. Supporting return migration can be quite complex as it not only requires the maintenance of communications between the two areas, but also ensuring that appropriate arrangements are made on return for access to key resources, usually land. This may be quite difficult, as is the case now in some parts of northern Ethiopia where land redistributions have occurred since the people resettled by the Derg regime left.


Mitigation is a very wide ranging area of activity, linking closely with prevention and rehabilitation. It needs to be considered in all areas with which displaced persons are concerned. It must be based on a deep and holistic analysis which addresses the underlying causes of the problems, both the migration and the problems which are caused by the displaced persons. Mitigation is not a short-term measure, but is one which may need to be undertaken over several years. Hence it should not just be an activity of emergency organizations but should be built into development policies and plans of national governments who have to cope with displaced people.