|Environmental Impact of Sudden Population Displacements - Expert Consultation on Priority Policy Issues and Humanitarian Aid (European Commission Humanitarian Office, 1995, 28 p.)|
On September, 22 -25, 1995 The European Community Humanitarian Office and the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters convened an Expert Consultation in Brussels on Policy Issues on the Environmental Impact of Displaced Populations During Emergency Phase to discuss policy parameters dealing with the relationship between environment, relief and population concentrations.
The meeting was convened with the recognition that the present humanitarian intervention, relief and emergency programmes give little to no considerations to the impact of displaced and refugees on the host environment. The total number of displaced persons world-wide is estimated at about 42 million peoples: seventeen million refugees and twenty-five internally displaced persons. Most of these are in the developing countries, with about 4 million in Eastern European states and the former Soviet Union. The environmental impacts of such population concentrations both on settlement and host environment is staggering.
The European Commission has so far this year spent over 500 million ECU (625 million USD) on refugees and internally displaced. Main countries absorbing these funds are Tanzania, Mozambique, Afghanistan, the Former Yugoslavia, and Liberia. Given the environmental impact of displaced populations, the Commission wishes to find approaches in which its emergency relief efforts can lessen the burden on the environment and as such contribute to future sustainable development.
The literature on environmental issues as linked to population displacements during emergencies is scarce and fragmentary. Displacement creates environmental degradation primarily for two reasons:
· sudden concentration of large populations can strain the carrying capacity of the local ecosystem, and exceeds its capacity to absorb waste;
· meeting the needs of displaced and concentrated populations often becomes a complex logistics and technical operation. In this context, environmental management becomes all the more difficult, and takes the back seat.
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.).
An appeal for urgent policy attention
The consultative expert group outlined the following areas of policy concerns which require urgent attention by the international community, multilateral, bi-lateral, national and local organisations; governmental and NGOs. These include
i. giving energy needs the same status and priority as other basic needs such as food, water, health and shelter;
ii. securing shelter through the provision of suitable structural supports for shelter to minimise cutting of greenwood and hence deforestation;
iii. linking sustainable agriculture with refugee programme thus engaging them in agricultural production to address environmental protection and promote development benefits to the local people;
iv. incorporating environment aspects fully in site selection and suitability, and developing suitable methods that do not isolate environment from other sectors;
v. promote indigenous knowledge sharing between local populations, displaced populations and agencies in order to minimise environmental damage and promote long term development;
vi. promote research on environmental impact assessment for monitoring, surveillance and impact (socio-economic and environmental) assessment systems; emphasise and encourage applied research;
vii. develop institutional capacity for camp environment monitoring and to raise environmental awareness for healthy environment and sustainable resource management;
viii. building capacity for agencies not sufficiently equipped with environmental awareness and knowledge with the possibility of dissemination of UNHCR policy and guidelines which are currently under preparation with a view of harmonising relief agencies policy and, as such, facilitate co-ordination on the field, as well as enhancing other agencies environmental awareness.