|Environmentally-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.)|
|Extracts of Main Contributions|
Vincent Coultan and Dean Girdis
The establishment of environmental policy guidelines for mass migrations of refugees ensures the successful management of natural resources by:
® establishing a framework for preparing and managing a refugee crisis;
® identifying needs to ensure timely response; providing a common ground for actors in which to focus their energies; and
® increasing the overall effectiveness of crisis management.
As many organizations (actors) are involved, multiple and conflicting priorities may often result. Care must be taken to work collectively to identify common policy guidelines to avoid duplication of efforts. Recognizing the importance each actor plays and ensuring that their needs are addressed inevitably increases the effectiveness of environmental management efforts. Use of environmental policy guidelines means integrating environmental management procedures, or an environmental management strategy, into relief management operations. In order to increase effectiveness they should be inseparable - ignoring environmental management not only limits efforts to protect the environment but further complicates effective camp management. At the onset of a crisis, an environmental management strategy should be developed in order to prepare for influx of refugees and the ensuing effect on the environment.
Role of different actors
In the case of the environment, disperse, uncoordinated efforts to provide for refugee needs while protecting natural resources can be improved, and effectiveness increased, with some prior planning. Each actor needs to recognize its role in a crisis and to work effectively to fulfill their respective goals. UNHCR plays the most important role by providing overall guidance and direction at the onset. Their role to lead and coordinate other actors will provide a sound framework from which to launch environmental management activities. The initiation of an environmental management strategy, and the use of environmental screening and environmental impact assessments, are important areas where UNHCR should focus its efforts. Relief agencies should focus on their strengths of on-site management, expanding their roles to include environmental management actions. They probably play the most integral role in implementing and ensuring the success of environmental measures due to their on the ground knowledge of the situation and role of working closely with many of the actors in the field. They can promote the use and development of environmental management plans, including preventive actions and mitigation plans. As many relief agencies have considerable development experience in the natural resource area, in fields such as forestry and agriculture, their expertise cannot be ignored and should be applied accordingly. Development agencies and bilateral donors can focus on providing technical and financial assistance for environmental management by utilizing the depth of their experience and access to funds. Their efforts are particularly useful for rehabilitation programs that require a long-term commitment and are not crisis oriented. Local NGOs are a rich and inexhaustible source of information as they provide local expertise for the identification of problems and for the development of environmental management strategies. They will work with other actors, particularly the relief agencies, to implement the environmental management strategy and they play the essential role in protecting the right of local residents. Local and national governments should be integrated early in the process. They need to play an active role and to be consulted with at all stages of the environmental management process. This ensures that the environmental management strategy is in accordance with all local and national environmental laws and that it does not conflict with environmental or refugee related policies.
The way ahead
Providing for successful management of the natural resources and protecting the environment during refugee crises can be accomplished relatively easily if the following approaches are taken. They include:
Þ recognizing that there are many different functions and roles which all actors need to play a part;
Þ integrating all actors into developing and effective and comprehensive environmental management strategy as the solution is not limited to only one actor;
Þ creating a team spirit as it facilitates solving problems collectively by using each others strengths and by avoiding duplication of effort;
Þ developing a comprehensive environmental management strategy at the onset which will incorporate preventive, mitigative and rehabilitative actions;
Þ promoting early use of preventive actions to reduce and/or eliminate negative impacts
Þ developing appropriate mitigation strategies that are easily applicable and take into consideration environmental, technical, financial and logistical limitations; and
Þ initiating and supporting the rehabilitation plan as environmental problems still persist after refugees have returned and should not be ignored in favor of higher profile relief action elsewhere.