|Environmental Impact of Sudden Population Displacements - Expert Consultation on Priority Policy Issues and Humanitarian Aid (European Commission Humanitarian Office, 1995, 28 p.)|
|4. CASE STUDIES (SUMMARIES)|
Perceptions of the term «environment» differ from one society to another. For the vast majority of Africans, particularly the very poor, it is a question of survival. In fact it is a development tool. Environment should be viewed as consisting of three dimensions: the ecological/biological; the socio-cultural; and, the socio-economic. All the problems, issues and challenges of environment and development can be assigned to these dimensions.
One of the major problems of environment and development which is also a most glaring indication of environmental and developmental failure in our time is the refugee malaise in Africa. To be a refugee is to experience a particularly degrading form of poverty. A refugee typically lacks economic resources, has been deprived of national identity, and his very right to exist is called into question. There are far more internal refugees than cross-border (external) refugees in Africa. Unfortunately excessive attention has been focused on cross-border refugees at the expense of internal refugees. The issue of the impact of internal refugees on the environment has not received the attention it deserves. Neither has that of large concentrations of cross-border refugees upon rural resources. Yet people forced to move find themselves in complex and intricate environmental linkages that are increasingly threatening to squeeze them out of existence. Perhaps no people in Africa illustrate this better than the Rwandese.
Several factors are responsible for the generation of the environmental refugee malaise in Africa. These include historical and socio-political factors; huge capital-intensive development projects; disasters such as war, drought, famine and earthquakes; desertification; floods; establishment of reserves and national parks; ill-advised economic policies and despotic regimes.
New perceptions, thinking and policies that are people-centred, anticipatory and problem-oriented, and that reflect historical and socio-political realities in Africa are required urgently. The alternative is escalating environmental and developmental crises despite huge inflows of resources to redress them.
In this paper, we examine the environmental refugee malaise in Africa with specific reference to the Rwandese debacle and its impact on the environment. Problems, issues and challenges are identified including ecological stress and political conflicts, and some suggestions for action are given. We conclude that the people of Africa themselves be empowered to deal with the refugee problem with backup assistance from the humanitarian community as a first step towards preventing refugee impacts on the environment.