|Environmental Impact of Sudden Population Displacements - Expert Consultation on Priority Policy Issues and Humanitarian Aid (European Commission Humanitarian Office, 1995, 28 p.)|
|3. OVERVIEW OF POLICY ISSUES|
(Summaries of papers presented)
The paper reviewed the policy issues related to the environmental impact of sudden mass displacements as well as of massive aid operations. It recognised that apart from general environmental, inadequate resources use is becoming increasingly a factor creating tensions and conflicts between the displaced and the host populations. By not addressing these issues therefore, the relief community aggravates and contributes to the very process it is trying to solve. The review was limited by the literature which was scarce and fragmentary. Displacement creates environmental degradation primarily for two reasons:
(a) the sudden concentration of large populations can strain the carrying capacity of the local ecosystem and can exceed its capacity to absorb waste;
(b) meeting the needs of displaced and concentrated populations is a complex logistics and technical operation and can encourage action that actively degrade, denude or otherwise pollute the environment.
The environmental impact of mass displacement can be divided into two categories:
· impacts on the immediate human environment (e.g. food shortages, inadequate water supply and sanitation, etc.);
· impacts on the physical and natural environment (e.g. soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, etc.).
The environmental management of population displacements is severely hindered by the limited availability of proven tools such as rapid methods for environmental impact assessments and environmental early warning systems), and how these tools can be integrated in a relief operation in the most effective manner.
The overall objective of introducing environmental impact assessment and other methods of inquiry into areas occupied by refugees and internally displaced peoples is to regulate and hence control the negative impacts of their interventions on the environment. It is also a measure that allows a timely response to potential and unforeseen environmental effects with the aim of regaining the productive and assimilative capacity of the environment. All these together should lead to the sustainability and hence the conservation of the human and physical environments. Without elaborating the issue, we present seven policy perspectives which we hope could be debated, and again, elaborated by the consultative group. These include
· socio-economic incentives versus command and control with regard to environmental protection policies;
· an integrated and inter-sectoral approach to encourage co-operation rather than competition;
· conservation for the improvement of the quality of socio-economic conditions as well as environmental quality;
· institutional and capacity-building for environmental, risk and social assessment;
· planned and voluntary dispersion versus concentration in mega-camps;
· development of energy saving technologies and their inclusion in standard emergency relief packages;
· development of clear policy guidelines within the confines of multilateral and bi-lateral agencies working with refugees and displaced people.
Action in the field for containment of environmental damage and control of potential conflicts between displaced and host populations related to resource use is hardly possible without clear and specific policy directives at the donor levels. Emergency relief is largely financed by international and bilateral agencies and the responsibility of clarifying concepts and priorities, in this case, rests with them. Only on the basis of such policy directives, can field agencies develop operational strategies and technical guidelines. Along with the specific concerns mentioned in this paper, it is critical that such policy should be mindful of the importance of the socio-economic and cultural factors, particularly for environmental matters and the importance of including both host and displaced communities within the policy framework. Such an approach, in our view, would go along way in ensuring a successful implementation.
It is clear, however, that incentives are required for agencies and communities alike in order to enhance their abilities to take care of the environment. This will require analyses of the interaction between the human and physical environments, and the development of methodologies to determine the socio-economic costs of displacement.
Disasters receive disproportionate attention by the international community. This is a result of media attention, as well as of institutional behaviour. With reference to the latter, in understanding the current governmental/international approach to disasters, it is important to recognise that current institutions define problems in terms of what they can do rather than in terms of what is effectively needed. In the last fifteen years we have seen a fundamental shift away from emergency assistance towards an integration of aid and development. Yet in general, organisations that are dedicated to dealing with humanitarian assistance have a tendency to consider problems as defined by the role expected of them and which they are capable - within given political constraints - of delivering. They are constrained from seeing a broader picture in which emergencies might be a relatively much less significant. With reference to prevention of complex emergencies, why are so few resources allocated to such actions? Part of the answer to this question is that institutions are constrained by diplomacy, and the principle of the nation state. Responses to disasters are therefore opportunity- and capability-driven, rather than needs-driven.
How do we add, therefore, environmental management as part of emergency response, without institutional self-justification? In addition, why is it necessary to specifically recognise the environment as a category to signify problems when dealing with disaster emergencies? In other words, would such money be better spent elsewhere on environmental issues? Is it possible to treat environmental issues within the framework of the normal processes and aid efforts that are under way in emergencies, and without significantly adding to costs, or shifting the burden on the environment elsewhere?
Finally, five policy objectives were proposed:
- Assist in removing or reducing the threat that has caused expulsion;
- Provide safe and healthy environment for the duration of the expulsion;
- Deliver and maintain supplies as necessary for the welfare of refugees and minimising animosity of host people;
- Minimise activities by displaced people that have a negative environmental impact;
- Where repatriation is likely to be impossible or to take a long time, the negotiation with prior users for access to environmental resources that minimises conflict with host communities.
UNHCR is faced with the field realities of population displacements and sought early on to include environmental management into its programmes. Currently, UNHCR is trying to develop guidelines that are both practicable and cost-effective.
A. The policy applies to environmental issues associated with the presence of refugees. Among environmental problems associated with refugee situations, the major ones are: deforestation, soil erosion and depletion and degradation of water, as well as the socio-economic impacts of such problems on refugees and local communities.
Basic environmental policies
Environmental concerns need to be reflected in major activities with its integration implementation of UNHCRs programmes.
Prevention should be the norm, rather than cure, because the natural environments cannot be recreated or replaced by humanity.
Preventive environmental measures can reduce the total cost of refugee operations making them more cost effective in the long run.
Participation of all concerned (displaced persons including women and children, implementing agencies) is essential to ensure sustainability.
The following organisational principles were presented within the context of the above guidelines: (i) All environment-related action required during the emergency and care-and maintenance phases should be an integrated part of the response of UNHCR and budgeted accordingly under Special or General Programmes as applicable; (ii) The role of actors in addressing environmental concerns specific to refugee situations should be defined according to their relationship to environmental problems linked to refugees, and to the resources they may contribute to developing solutions to those problems; (iii) Since major components of camp operations, such as site selection and layout, are decided at this stage, UNHCRs operations in the emergency phase must be designed to take environmental factors into account effectively; (iv) Sound environmental management must be introduced and maintained in the care-and-maintenance phase; (v) The environmental damage left by refugees must be repaired, when necessary, in the light of future development plans for the area concerned.
B. To implement the organisational principles outlined above, a number of operational outcomes have been identified:
Emergency phase (i) Integration: e.g. inclusion of environmental concerns in the Handbook for Emergencies; inclusion of an environmental specialist in the emergency team. (ii) Co-ordination: establishment of a working relationship with the environmental authorities in the host government. (iii) Training of emergency team staff in environmental principles of site selection, design and emergency operations. (iv) Creation of an environmental data base, which should provide up-to-date information for emergency planning purposes.
Care-and-maintenance phase: (i) Integration: environmental co-ordinator for situations that have serious impacts on the environment; preparation of an Environmental Strategy and Action Plan. (ii) a local environmental task force for regular co-ordination among major actors concerned; (iii) a section on environment and an environmental clause in the budget submission and in all related project agreements, (iv) promotion of applied research for new technical solutions to environmental problems (v) co-ordination of policy and planning with other UN agencies and donors; (vi) participation of NGOs according to their specific technical capacities and involvement of refugees and local communities in management of environmental projects; (vii) establishment of a staff training programme; (viii) inclusion of environmental data in UNHCR statistical report; promotion of refugee-related environmental information.
Some durable solutions were proposed to mitigate the environmental damage. These were: (i) introduction of a limited environmental rehabilitation scheme and development of an environmental rehabilitation plan to keep a sound co-ordination among all related activities, (ii) Large-scale rehabilitation schemes: preparation of an environmental rehabilitation programme in collaboration with the host government, other UN agencies and donors, where extensive rehabilitation is needed.
The above reflects the increasingly focused UNHCR policy on refugees and environmental issues. It also lays the basis for practical, definite guidelines to give effect to that policy.
The principal issues raised included: (i) the quality of existing data on environmental indicators; (ii) key issues in determining responses to mass displacement (limits imposed by time constraints and settlement size); and (iii) the validity of current hypotheses (how do we estimate population: resource ratios and regulatory mechanisms). The following conclusions were drawn:
First, on the basis of one or more local case studies, it should be possible to identify both detailed evidence of at least short-term environmental change, and the role of social, economic and organisational factors linked to the presence of refugees and refugee assistance programmes in influencing environmental strategies and sustainability. Specific questions might include whether increased population density resulting from the refugees presence has placed excessive pressure on resource management systems, and whether refugees act differently in terms of resource management from local populations, beyond the impact of population density alone;
A second question relates to the longer-term impact of refugees on the environment, and specially the nature of any environmental recovery after refugees return to their home country. Such an analysis is not easy, and would need to be placed in the context of other social, economic, political and environmental processes occurring in the region, especially where the region has been subject to medium-term cycles of environmental or economic change;
A third area of potential research interest concerns the opportunity for a more wide-ranging study of vegetational change in refugee-affected areas bases on analysis of imagery derived from satellite remote sensing or air photographs. Building on climatic, vegetational and other data available through the UNEP/GRID database, it would be possible to establish time series data for a number of individual refugee-affected areas over much of the 1980s.