|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|
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.