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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

1. Extracts from General Background Paper

Symposium Secretariat


With a fast-growing and unequally distributed world population - 5.7 billion in 1995 (UNFPA, “State of World Population) - the Earth and its resources are under enormous pressure, and the strain is sharply increasing. Stable and life-sustaining relationships between many societies and their environmental and economic support systems are breaking down in many places. Huge numbers of people are struggling to survive in environmentally-degraded areas and many of these see only one way out of their misery: leave home and seek better places to live with greater chances of survival. However, such a refuge tactic’ seldom provides real solutions; on the contrary, it often creates new problems in the hosting areas, whether urban or rural.

While these problems are occurring more frequently and on a larger scale, awareness of their extent and depth is also increasing. Studies are being initiated, meetings held, and a growing number of field-level projects undertaken (even if to date these address, in the main, damage already incurred). There is a need for progress in two important areas. Firstly, ad hoc approaches - projects addressing only part of the problem - should give way to more strategic programme planning and implementation. Secondly, preventive measures require much more attention as, particularly in cases of environmental degradation, early intervention has a significant cost-effective impact. Practical guidelines will need to be developed to enable the agencies and governments concerned, to act more effectively when they implement measures to prevent, mitigate and rehabilitate environmental damage.


The Problem and The State of the Art

The huge weight of human numbers places enormous demands on the earth’s resources. World population and resource consumption are rising across most of the globe, but patterns of population growth are far from even, and levels of consumption by no means mirror the distribution of people worldwide. Insecurity over available natural resources is often the result; this creates unstable communities who are ready to leave their home-areas in search of alternative livelihoods. When people actually decide to move, they become environmentally displaced persons.

Human intervention can decrease an eco-systems carrying capacity, or stretch it by technological advances. There are cases where the carrying capacity is exceeded to such an extent that the degradation process becomes irreversible. Rehabilitation of the eco-system then proves an extremely difficult and expensive, or even impossible affair. As, next to climate, the human factor is of paramount importance, practical ways of improving prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation of environmental degradation need to be developed, with the aim of slowing down the process of environmentally-induced population displacements.

There is a dear link between the number of environmentally displaced persons and the poverty level of their home areas. The relation between environmental and other - man-made - problems depends on issues such as economic marginalization, insecurity, social upheaval and political mismanagement. It is preferable - for socio-economic and ecological reasons - to improve people’s conditions in their home area, rather than confront the problems of forced migration.

What needs more study are the deeper causes of mass population displacements, and the forms they take. The situational, or circumstantial reasons for people leaving their homes do not very often indicate much about the structural, or underlying causes.

Situational causes include: drought, pestilence, disruption of food production activities, the collapse of government health services etc. These are circumstances which can lead rapidly to disaster.

Structural causes include: long-term processes and trends which exist within a society and in its relations with external communities, the world economy and, environmental degradation. These processes are political, social, economic and environmental in nature, and are usually interlinked. They lead, over a long period of time, to major changes in situational conditions and so increase the risk of disasters, with the subsequent possibility of displacement.

People who are migrating for environmental reasons fall outside the categories protected by instruments of international refugee law, both in terms of the text and intent of the drafters, and in terms of much current practice. International recognition of environmentally displaced persons as a vulnerable group in need of particular assistance may now be seen as desirable.

Preventive Action

The livelihoods of households and communities in environmentally-sensitive rural areas depend on sustained agricultural production capacity, income generation, and access to natural resources. The degree of sustainability depends on prevailing socio-economic, and ecological factors. Long-term environmental degradation or sudden environmental disruption will decrease people’s capacity to cope with their situation. A decision to leave home in search of better living conditions should be considered as the consequence of extreme vulnerability, the tip of the iceberg of multiple survival difficulties. It is of great importance for anyone looking for solutions to this problem, to realize that migration is inevitably the result of a decision taken in extremis.

The deteriorating welfare situation of societies and communities moving towards the moment of migration, need to be clearly understood, if early recovery is to be maintained as a possibility. Population displacement may still be averted if, during this period, appropriate action is taken. Early warning systems, allowing global surveillance of areas prone to environmentally-induced population displacements, need to be developed. Furthermore research systems are required to establish, for each situation, its specific root causes. With a better understanding of what causes displacement, earlier and more efficient measures can be applied to minimize emigrant flow, and - where possible -help people overcome their difficulties at an early stage, enabling them thereby to remain in their home areas.

Disaster preparedness as an essential tool in facilitating and preventing disruption of the developmental process, is of great importance to all populations living in resource-marginal areas. Given that food shortages are very often the main threat, and the most likely cause of famine and displacements, two levels of preparedness may be distinguished:

* The first, based on food security, takes the short-term view on how in marginal areas the inevitable food deficits may escalate into emergency and famine. Early warning systems, linked to this food balance, exist nowadays in many countries, often supported by agencies such as the FAO, US-AID and sub-regional organizations (CILSS, IGADD, SADCC). These systems monitor closely food supply situations and include rainfall projections and patterns, crop assessments, and other indicators which provide early warning of the timing and scale of impending food deficits.

* The second, the environment-oriented, takes a longer-term view of root causes. If the natural resource base of marginal areas can be reinforced, people’s vulnerability to environmentally-induced disaster, and subsequent displacement, will be lessened. This requires a comprehensive environmental rehabilitation approach linked to agriculture and livestock keeping - for these sectors provide the bulk of food required.

There is a need for an inventory of those types of practical measures which may avoid people from becoming environmentally-induced displaced persons. Effective prevention may best be achieved with the help of natural resource projects, and sustainable development programmes, which allow marginalized people to improve their livelihoods without compromising future resource needs. Examples are needed for various environmental disruptions, such as desertification, deforestation, soil degradation, pollution and over-exploitation of energy sources.

One disturbing discussion which can be heard now-and-then, is about whether development efforts in so-called super marginal areas (northern Sahel, desert areas), should be stopped. The reason given is, that “these people will have no chance in the longer run anyway, because they live in a permanently resource deficient region”. As there already exists an out-migration, seasonal or one-way, “why bother to try to stem the flow”; “better to invest in the hosting areas where an environmental disaster may still be avoided”. Such talk is all the more disturbing because it neglects two important realities:

* Firstly, there are people concerned, and as long as there remain communities who dearly carve a living from declining resources, so long should there be an attempt to help them make it work. In any case, it is well-known that techniques exist to make deserts green, given modern irrigation technologies and high investments. (Ref. the case of vegetable production in the Negev desert)

* Secondly it would seem to be much wiser to invest in letting people stay at home, than to have to face the problems related to the settlement of displaced persons and over-population in the hosting areas. Socio-political (including ethnic) and economic tensions are often the result of such in-migration.

Other measures to be considered concern the responsibilities of governments of countries facing large-scale environmental problems, and those of international aid agencies. An important mechanism is national strategic environmental planning adopted through strategies such as:

Þ National Environmental Action Plans (NEAPs)
Þ National Conservation Strategies (NCSs)
Þ Plans de Lutte Contre la D√©sertification (PLCDs)
Þ Tropical Forestry Action Plans (TFAPs).

These types of environmental planning may be useful in natural resource management activities for prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation. The role of environmental strategies is to make an inventory of existing natural resources, identify the priorities and bottlenecks for their management, and formulate a strategy for their sustainable use. It is important that development programmes take cognisance of, and work together with, the environmental strategies and plans existing on national or regional level, or in certain sectors (e.g. wetlands, forestry, mountains). This will be of benefit to both plans and programmes.

One recent positive development is that donor agencies have introduced environmental checklists for screening project proposals. This should, in the long-term, result in environmentally-friendlier development programmes. Donor agencies are thereby helping the move away from non-committed natural resource exploitation aiming at “development”, to committed wise use of natural resources aiming at “sustainable development”. Especially in resource-marginal areas, where people risk having to migrate in search of richer resource areas, this promising change in donor policy may have a considerable impact.

Mitigative Action

Once environmentally displaced persons are on the move, and regions with marginal natural resources have started to show clear population decline, ad hoc measures, even efficiently implemented ones, are usually incapable of stemming the exodus. Mitigative action needs to be undertaken in the home areas, all along the migration routes, and in the hosting areas. This should be part of an overall strategy, which not only aims at reducing the environmental impacts of the migration itself, but also at encouraging a return flow by ensuring improved conditions in the home areas. In cases where environmentally displaced persons cross international borders, for example, host governments will have great difficulty stopping an influx just by closing their frontiers. There is plenty of proof worldwide that such a measure alone is not capable of “solving” the problem. Displaced persons will continue to find ways of crossing, host areas will continue to cope with sharply increased populations, and home areas will go on having to find solutions for the problems of environmental degradation. Interrelated mitigative measures, should, through a strategic approach, become mutually reinforcing.

For example, in several countries where there have been considerable moves from rural areas to the cities due to environmental degradation in the home areas, initiatives are being taken to help people return to their land. This “retour √† la terre” approach is two-pronged, in that it establishes work with people in the poorer neighbourhoods and bidonvilles of the cities and establishes, through project activities, close contacts with the home villages. The aim is also two-pronged, i.e. (i) to avoid family members joining earlier arrived urban dwellers, and (ii) to promote the return of the urban dwellers to their villages and assist them in living off the land anew.

The essential point here is that there should be a permanent exchange of information between the home and host areas of environmentally-induced displaced people. This exchange should be based on positive action to link the situations in both areas and restore the natural resource base in the home area. Closer monitoring of the entire migration process will permit an understanding of quantitative and qualitative aspects of environmentally caused displacements and possibilities for return.


Adequate support is seldom available for rehabilitation measures in environmentally degraded or disrupted areas. This may be because of the high expenditure and complex technical inputs needed to restore the damaged natural resource base. Special programmes need to be developed to effectively address rehabilitation, even if they require extra fund-raising efforts.

One difficult problem specific to environmental rehabilitation in home areas is that the original population has been reduced by out-migration. This process, which the French call “d√©sertification rurale”, leaves a limited human resource capacity - both in quantity and in quality - to do the rehabilitation work needed.

Policy Guidelines and Roles of Different Actors

To address the field of environmentally-induced population displacements more effectively, the following actions are needed:

(a) appropriate policy development within agencies and governments

(b) a move away from reactive interventions to pro-active strategies and action plans

(c) the development of a world-wide monitoring capacity which would look closely at environmentally sensitive areas

(d) the establishment of a platform where information can be exchanged on important issues between governments and agencies

Governments of countries which are most concerned with this problem need assistance from international agencies, both to develop their in-house capacity in dealing more effectively with the situation and to get relevant information on cross-border related issues and successful practice elsewhere.

In ecological zones which are sensitive to environmental degradation (e.g. arid and semi-arid zones, coastal areas, rain forests, wetlands), but also in many overpopulated areas (Rwanda, Burundi, Northern Ethiopia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh), special programmes and conventions may be extremely helpful in organizing a more strategic approach. In order to guide governments’ and agencies’ action, there is a need for guidelines explaining how to deal with environmentally-induced population displacements. Existing policies may need adapting to cope with, and indeed palliate such massive human and environmental disasters. Some policy considerations - including preventive, mitigative and rehabilitative actions - are:

- the mandates of organizations, the roles of governments, and their respective capacities and limitations - in this field of intervention

- identification of areas prone to environmental exodus

- sustainable development approaches as preventive measures

- the underlying causes of population displacement

- the circumstantial reasons why people decide to move

- the implications of population reduction for the home areas, and possible rehabilitation measures

- impact of environmentally displaced persons on the migratory route, and appropriate mitigative measures

- potential impact on hosting areas, early warning, early mitigative measures and long-term planning

The policy consideration of sustainable development approaches as preventive measures has of course been tackled at the 1992 UNCED Conference in Rio de Janeiro. However, there seems to be reason enough to remain vigilant in this field, as with time, UNCED’s conclusions and recommendations - Agenda 21 - are slowly ebbing away into oblivion. Environmental policies, guidelines, checklists and impact assessments are exactly the sort of tools agencies and governments should apply to their development and relief operations, if environmentally-induced population displacements are to be reduced. The principles of sustainability in development programmes and other activities (emergency relief, rehabilitation, and even nature conservation programmes) no longer need study now, but should be put into practice.

Because of the strong linkage between population growth and environmental degradation, it is clear that a strategic population policy needs to accompany all other measures. Such a policy could consist of one, or both. of two main elements - family planning and resettlement. Family planning, however widely promoted nowadays, still shows but limited results in effective population growth reduction.

Resettlement programmes as an organized - and therefore controlled - process of migration, are also of importance, although they meet with many social and practical problems.

Problems related to the migration route of environmentally-induced population displacements, and strategy choices, will also need to be addressed. Those international agencies, best placed to monitor and intervene in this intermediate phase between uprooting and new settlement, need to be identified.

Instead of creating a new field of environmentally-induced population displacement (or more commonly, “environmental exodus”), it would seem to be much more logical to improve on existing policies developed over many years. To achieve such policy improvement and integration, each agency will need to look at the general principles and desirable practices involved in addressing environmentally-induced population migrations, and incorporate these into their own agency-specific programme policy. Information on general principles and desirable practices should be developed through international meetings, such as this Symposium, and made available to agencies and concerned governments.


The Problem and The State of the Art

The numbers of internally-displaced people and other forced migrants have risen sharply during the last decade. In cases where settlement is organized, the areas allocated are usually economically marginal, and frequently environmentally sensitive. The carrying capacities of these hosting areas are often exceeded by the influx of new displaced persons, which can result in serious damage to the local natural resource base.

In cases of so-called “spontaneously-settled” displaced persons, it is evidently difficult both to measure the extent of the problem, and to address subsequent environmental impacts. Various studies (e.g. Timothy Bell’s in 60s and 70s, Dr Rachel van der Meeren, 1996, and UNHCR, 1995 and 1996) show that spontaneously settled displaced persons have, because of their large degree of integration into the local society, a much lower adverse impact on the local environment, than those internally displaced and refugees who are settled in camps and organized settlements. Spontaneous settlement usually means absorption into the local society - very often facilitated by kinship of ethnic alliance - and shared resource use. If small numbers of displaced persons are well dispersed over large areas and local communities, the resource balance is less likely to be disrupted.

The real problem lies with the massive in-migration of displaced persons forced into environmentally -and therefore usually, economically - marginal areas. As such areas seem to be the most preferred option for local governments as land for camps and settlements, their potential for sustaining refugees and internally displaced persons is bound to be limited in time and in resources. If no active attention is paid to this problem, the medium term result is often social tension over scarce resources and serious resource degradation (soil erosion, water pollution and depletion, deforestation, desertification). Only in recent years has this issue been more seriously and coherently addressed. Projects and programmes aimed at reducing environmental impact in hosting areas are being undertaken, and Environmental Impact Assessments (ElAs) are beginning to provide the technical and social information necessary for the implementation of environmental action plans. ElAs have been undertaken around recent mass refugee situations in Zaire, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Nepal, Iran and Pakistan. This is not a completely new concern to agencies working with refugees: as early as 1983, an environmental impact assessment was made under the title “Soil-erosion, fertility and structure. Forestry assessments of the problems and programmes for action” in the Qala en Nahal refugee land settlement in Eastern Sudan (the now internationally adopted term of EIA was then not yet in use). ElAs addressing environmental impacts resulting from mass migrations should adopt the “migrant-affected area” approach. Natural resource management is very much a matter for both local population and displaced persons and the advantage of ElAs is that from the beginning, concrete measures can be formulated for joint implementation.

The nature and extent of environmental impacts resulting from mass migrations also need to be discussed. It may be clear that the choice of preventive, mitigative and rehabilitation measures depends very much on the type and extent of the impact. The most common environmental impacts observed are: soil erosion (both physical and fertility), deforestation and more general degradation of all vegetation (this can be up to a radius of many miles from the settlements), encroachment into protected areas (national parks, nature reserves, wetland areas), destruction by roads, adverse impacts on the local population’s natural resources.

Population figures can be useful in establishing the scale of displaced-person influxes in hosting countries and areas, and the magnitude of impacts on local natural resource bases. It can also help to show to what extent the local population may be affected by such unexpected and unwanted human influxes. In the case of Ngara, the popular way of indicating the scale of influx in an otherwise very sparsely populated area, was to say that the main camp of Benaco, had become, after Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s second city... More precisely, to give just one example, the refugee demography and population density in the Moyo District of Northern Uganda changed between 1980 and 1991 from 35 to 66 persons per km2, giving a refugee/Ugandans ratio of 1:1.

The cross-sectoral nature of the problem - humanitarian/development aid and environment -demands relevant information from both sectors. The gap between the two sectors concerned will need to be bridged both at headquarters level and - more importantly - in the field.

Examples of techniques used in addressing environmental impacts resulting from mass migrations:

- GIS monitoring

- EIA studies environmental surveys (biomass inventories, cooking practices, energy consumption etc.)

- firewood supply, organized firewood collection

- energy-saving projects (cooking practices, economic devices, change of food ingredients, blankets to save heating energy)

- alternative energy sources (solar, grass, crop residues, kerosine, gas)

- alternative construction of shelter’s and communal buildings reforestation and

- reforestation projects

- agro-forestry practices soil and water conservation works

- environmental awareness-raising and education

Preventive Action

Despite worldwide interest in the environment, the subject of mass migration and its impacts on the environment has not hitherto received much attention. Such impacts are, however, often immediate, extremely negative, and leave little chance of easy remedial action. If attention is paid at all to this problem, it is usually at a late stage in the occurrence of mass displaced-person influxes. Damage control and damage limitation are usually the leading themes, and remedial action is very much repair-oriented. Hardly any manuals, guides, training, experts, or early-action blueprints exist for dealing with the adverse environmental impact of many mass displaced-person/refugee situations. In short, there is a lack of clear policies.

Early warning systems which make use of pre-event EIAs and surveillance techniques (such as satellite images, aerial photography and ground surveys) can only be really effective if they are linked to ground surveys (ecological surveys, and interviews in communities concerned). Short-term planning of preventive measures can be undertaken with the help of the data thus acquired.

Examples of preventive measures which can be applied on the basis of early warning knowledge:

Þ Economic measures to stimulate or regulate trade between surplus and deficit areas
Þ Destocking of livestock with least disturbance of the markets
Þ Credit to farmers for agricultural inputs
Þ If really necessary, relief operations to help the most vulnerable

In cases where it is known that mass population displacement may occur, for whatever reason (Sahel -recurrent drought, Burundi - socio-political tension, Nigeria - socio-political tensions, Bangladesh -recurrent floods), the possible exit routes are usually known. Even the potential hosting areas can be prognosticated. Pre-event EIAs would therefore be very useful tools, not so much to prevent, as to prepare for the likelihood of mass influxes. This disaster-preparedness capacity has been developed over the years by governments and international aid agencies, however, without sufficient attention being paid to environmental factors. If these could be built into existing early-warning and disaster preparedness systems, preparatory environmental measures could be undertaken.

Disaster preparedness, specifically focussing on early environmental planning and management, can be achieved through preparatory measures such as early identification and planning of camps and settlements, field surveys of potential biomass and wood energy quantities, preparation for tree marking, and identification of alternative energy sources. A further important early measure would be the identification of local expertise in the field of environment (forestry, household energy, alternative energy, site planning and development, environmental education).

Mitigative Action

As the environmental issue is of a multi-sectoral nature, a holistic approach to dealing with environmental impacts resulting from mass migration, is essential. The reparation of damage caused by mass migration should be undertaken in the light of the potential for long-term development opportunities for the population - indigenous and displaced - and considering available natural resources. Environmental problems merit a mature place in humanitarian work, the more so because they have multiple causes and effects, which may, if ignored or only partly mitigated, be disastrous in the long-term for host populations and displaced persons alike. For this reason, uni-sectoral mitigative actions cannot provide efficient solutions.

Environmental strategies and action plans are the best policy tools to adopt, as they are by nature of a comprehensive and integrated nature, and can therefore easily be the basis for further programming. The logical process would thus be:

EIA Þ Environmental Strategy Þ Environmental Action Plan Þ Programme Implementation

Particular attention needs to be paid to protected areas and nature reserves, as they tend to be treated as easily exploited sources by displaced communities, and are in consequence very often irreversibly damaged. A rule of thumb for refugee settlements and camp sites is that they should be located at least 10 km, and preferably 20 km, from protected areas such as parks, nature reserves, and wetland or Ramsar sites. International environmental agencies, such as IUCN and WWF-International (both with field offices in many developing countries), local environmental agencies (of which there are many these days), and environmental government departments (natural resources, forestry, natural parks) will be able to provide valuable advice on local resources, land tenure issues, forest capacity and protected areas.

A very important principle which should be adhered to in all mitigative action in hosting areas is the earlier-mentioned migrant-affected area approach. Fortunately this way of dealing with environmental problems is increasingly accepted. It implies, that for example, that with reforestation activities, local people should be fully involved, and where possible, tree nurseries run by both displaced persons and host country nationals.

Migrant-affected areas are often located in environmentally marginal zones. The presence of a sharply increased population after a mass influx, usually provokes serious land and vegetation degradation. Scientific observation allied to on-the-ground confirmation - including the use of local expertise - is an increasing necessity in the analysis of such environmental problems, for three main reasons:

(i) to enable more precise estimations of the damage caused, formulation of mitigation measures, and calculation of environmental costs

(ii) to establish environmental monitoring systems capable of assessing change over time

(iii) to allow for the evaluation of environmental activities.

Quantified evidence regarding the scale of possible environmental impacts, and knowledge of the cost, to all parties concerned, of inaction or alternative courses of action are essential to the process of policy development within organizations, as well as to fund-raising activities. It is important to show that greater and better coordinated spending on mitigation and preventive measures can considerably improve the overall efficiency of refugee aid by minimizing the real cost of refugee-induced environmental impact on the host natural resource base. Environmental accounting could be an important strategic tool for agencies and governments. One is that the cost of refugee-related environmental damage and the issue of mitigating these costs is given priority in the debate between the host and the donor community. A recent UNHCR study on Economic and Financial Assessment of UNHCR’s Environmental Policies (Ivan Ruzicka, December 1995) takes the view that “environmental aspects of refugee assistance should be subject to cost-benefit analysis despite their association with a major humanitarian issue”. The other is that prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts resulting from mass migrations are usually much cheaper than rehabilitation of damage after the repatriation of refugees. The case of Malawi shows this. A shift in policy emphasis from “mitigation and rehabilitation” to “prevention and mitigation” is indicated.


After repatriation, or return of refugees and displaced persons to their home areas, the problem of environmental damage in the hosting areas needs to be addressed. Environmental rehabilitation programmes are more expensive than preventive measures such as tree-planting during the hosting period. UNHCR, for example, estimates the costs of rehabilitating former refugee areas to be at least 10% higher than those of controlled wood harvesting (for fuel and building) coupled with reforestation during the refugees’ stay.

Even when preventive and mitigative measures are undertaken, there will usually be an extensive over-exploitation of local natural resources, and special environmental rehabilitation programmes may need to be implemented. Because of the scale and technical demands of these, host governments will often need assistance from UN agencies, NGOs and donors. Environmental rehabilitation should, where possible, go beyond the status quo ante, also addressing the longer term development issues of the areas concerned.

Policy Guidelines and Roles of Different Actors

The fact that environment has been for so long the ‘orphan’ of humanitarian relief and development programmes, has had a number of negative consequences. These lie mainly in the fields of efficiency, organization, finance and politics. The existence of a clear policy along with an accompanying set of conditions will allow considerable gains in all these fields. Particular attention needs therefore be paid to how environment can be integrated into other sectors of humanitarian intervention, such as camp/settlement identification and planning, household supply, water, shelter, other infrastructures, and health. UNHCR is currently developing environmental guidelines for the following sectoral activities: supplies and logistics, site selection and planning (very important!), shelter, health, food, household energy, water, sanitation, community services, education, forestry, livestock management, fisheries, agriculture and income generation. For a total of 15 refugee assistance sectors, environmental factors will be progressively integrated into existing programming. This will permit the full incorporation of environmental work into UNHCR’s routine operations, supported by adjusted budget requests, budget allocation and project agreements.

General policy guidelines for host governments and agencies need to be elaborated. Each agency, however, will need to develop its own environmental policy, which will be agency-specific, and respond to its own particular programme needs. Policy guidelines will therefore have to be based on a wide variety of experiences. Principles such as prevention, integration, cost-effectiveness and participation will be helpful as guiding criteria to be applied when environmental problems are addressed.

Participation of displaced persons/refugees has proved to be an important tool in supporting all mitigative and preventive measures; it has also been shown to raise awareness about environmental problems.

Environmental education activities, as complementary measures, can help to further orient people towards improved natural resource use and management. These activities need to be built into policies as standard project elements. Only linked to concrete benefits will environmental education and awareness-raising be truly effective. Such an approach has been adopted nowadays by various NGOs working in this field.

Environmental issues can be effectively addressed through (i) full collaboration and dialogue with all parties involved, i.e. local communities, displaced persons/refugees, government services, NGO’s and UN Agencies, and (ii) active coordination of environmental activities. On the local level, an environmental task force will be an important tool ensuring coordination and information exchange.


The way people manage the natural resources available to them, determines the degree of sustainability. This is true for both home and hosting areas. Prevailing family- and community-level strategies in resource production and consumption should therefore be taken into consideration. A further important aspect is the existing professional environmental expertise within the displaced-person community. This could very well be exploited to address environmental impact in hosting areas; specialists, such as foresters, energy experts, park wardens and educationists, along with experts from the local community, should be recruited for mitigation projects in hosting areas. The various ways of using this type of technical potential need to be clarified, and its essential role stressed.

Studies in the hosting areas of environmentally-induced displaced persons could help to explain more about the real reasons for their displacement, and could shed light on the extent and type of environmental degradation in the home areas, and how this affected people in their livelihoods. Combined with the information about displaced person’s own experience in the hosting areas, and the impact on the local society and environment, such studies may be useful in bridging the link between “back home” and the new settlement areas, which would seem to be an important basis for any attempt to promote or organize a return.

Pull factors in the question of migration and environment need also to be looked at, especially in cases where rural exodus seems to be related to the attraction of urban promise. As both themes -environmentally-induced population displacements and environmental impacts resulting from mass migrations - are concerned with the sectors of “environment” and “humanitarian relief and development”, cross-sectoral coordination needs to be addressed.