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Case study: creating job and income opportunities for refugees in Pakistan

Alcira Kreimer and Martha Preece

This simple, well-targeted project benefited about 30 percent of the Afghan refugee families by increasing job and income opportunities and providing specialized training in forestry and environmental protection to thousand of immigrants. The project succeeded in developing sound economic and environmental prevention measures to address the problem of degradation of natural resources. It demonstrates the importance of developing simple, down-to-earth solutions to environmental problems, and shows that sound development activities can alleviate the physical and economic damage caused by the massive influx of refugees. By involving the migrants in environmental protection and prevention efforts, the project has helped the region break out of the cycle of poverty, environmental degradation, and disaster vulnerability.

In the last ten years the number of people fleeing from wars, persecution, and natural disasters has escalated. Fifteen million people have been uprooted, and the number of people forced out of their own countries grew more than 13 percent between 1988 and 1989 (McCallin 1990). About 90 percent of those migrants were rural people moving into rural areas in countries already hard-pressed to meet their own people’s needs. These massive population movements have placed an extraordinary burden on developing countries’ physical and economic assets, ultimately damaging supplies of such natural resources as fuelwood, pastureland, and water. Without sound environmental policies, rapid migration and population growth may significantly deplete forests and ecologically sensitive rangelands, threatening the sustainability of development.

The uncontrolled alteration of environmental systems may increase vulnerability to extreme events. Deforestation and poor land management have already accelerated soil erosion and water runoff in many areas, increasing the threat of landslides, floods, and drought. Environmental mismanagement coupled with massive migration has made large areas more disaster-prone and has spread the impact of natural hazards to both man-made and natural environments.

The problem in Pakistan

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan covers about 197 million acres in four provinces: Baluchistan, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), Punjab, and Sind. In the past 20 years, the country’s population (about 106 million) has increased about 3.1 percent a year. More than 72 percent of Pakistan’s inhabitants live in rural areas, and an estimated 65 million or more people live below the poverty line (US$188 per capita in 1986 prices).

Since 1979 as many as 3 million Afghans have arrived in Pakistan. The government has settled most of these people in 325 villages - more than 60 percent in NWFP and Baluchistan. It is said that one of every seven inhabitants of NWFP, and one of every four inhabitants of Baluchistan, is an Afghan immigrant (World Bank 1983). The extraordinary burden of these unplanned population movements hampers these areas’ ability to provide basic services and administer assistance.

The massive influx of immigrants has increased the demand for food, fuelwood, and shelter, accelerating environmental degradation and compounding the problems that have resulted from centuries of overexploiting pasturelands and uncontrolled deforestation. Degradation of the natural environment has exacerbated problems of soil erosion and water runoff, increasing vulnerability to floods. In the last 20 years, Afghans and their livestock have put added pressure on rangeland vegetation and their demand for fuelwood has accelerated the rate of deforestation (World Bank 1985).

The Baluchistan region. In the last few years, extensive environmental degradation in watershed regions has threatened fragile ecological balances, drying springs and reducing levels of groundwater. This has especially been true in the low-rainfall areas of Baluchistan, where soil erosion, deforestation, and depletion of the rangeland threaten irreversible degradation. In northern Baluchistan, near the Afghan border, accelerated population growth severely strains the ecological balance of the few relatively fertile valleys that get runoff water from the eroded mountain ranges. Here Afghan immigrants live in 16 major camps and smaller temporary settlements. Their presence and their livestock herds have contributed to deforestation and put added pressure on land and water resources. Compounding the problem, extensive sand dunes have developed because of wind erosion of the largely denuded mountains, imposing severe hardship on the local population and the region’s economy. Infrastructure and villages are in continual danger of being buried under sand. Since the mid-1950s, about 35 villages, 50 irrigation channels, many fields, and other residential and agricultural installations have been ruined and subsequently abandoned.

Rapid deforestation has also taken its toll on the eroded hills and the depleted juniper forest. Unregulated felling of trees has virtually eliminated the natural forest and severely eroded the mountain slopes, leading to sedimentation of reservoirs and irrigation systems. The destruction of vegetative cover and erosion of the hillsides have increased the number and power of runoff torrents that cannot be controlled by traditional irrigation structures. The needs of Afghan immigrants exacerbate these problems and threaten further irreversible degradation.

The Northwest Frontier Province. This region’s environmental problems are aggravated by the massive influx of immigrants that have settled in the plains, where available land can no longer support the rapidly growing population. The mismanagement of forests and intensive cultivation of hillsides with traditional techniques have increased the area’s susceptibility to landslides and flashfloods. The depletion of forests and the degradation of rangeland is a particular problem in the Hazara region, where a large proportion of the total population is Afghan immigrants. The enormous need for fuelwood has caused widespread deforestation and thus soil erosion, desertification, and the siltation of watercourses and reservoirs. Trees are felled at an alarming rate with virtually no replanting, so hillsides are almost devoid of vegetative cover. As a result the ability of the soil to permit infiltration and retain moisture has been reduced, accentuating problems of erosion and exacerbating the danger of flooding and landslides. Hillside stabilization is a major concern in the Kagan Valley, where the Forestry Department has been trying to prevent avalanches.

The Punjab region. Here soil erosion is the heaviest. Deforestation, particularly at higher elevations, is so dramatic that the damage is often irreversible. Landslides commonly destroy houses and infrastructure. In the rainy season, destructive flash floods and hillslides severely threaten the survival of some towns. The effects of population pressure and the mismanagement of natural resources are compounded by traditional rights to land and resources - particularly in tribal areas, where tradition conflicts with sound resource management practices. (Each adult male is allowed to fell three primary-category trees a year - and one more for each funeral. These hereditary privileges have multiplied with the growth of the local population.) Efforts by the Forestry Department to preserve the ecosystem and protect investments have been largely unsuccessful. They have failed to create incentives to influence local communities’ willingness to implement soil conservation treatments on their land.

The Income Generating Project for refugee areas

Since 1983, the Bank has been working closely with the UN High Commission for Refugees to identify, prepare, appraise, and supervise the Income Generating Project for Refugee Areas in Pakistan. Financed by donor grants, the project was administered by the Bank.

The Income Generating Project addressed some of the problems created by the protracted residence in Pakistan of some 3 million Afghan refugees. Its objectives were to create job and income opportunities for refugees and local residents, to improve the rural environment and repair the environmental damage caused partly by the influx of immigrants and their livestock, and to create viable economic resources in these areas. In the long term the project aims to restore the disturbed ecological balance and ease the pressure of population and cattle on natural resources.

The project consisted of many small-scale, labor-intensive subprojects in three sectors: forestry and watershed management; irrigation and flood control; and road construction, upgrading, and rehabilitation. In Phase I, 52 subprojects were undertaken in NWFP and Baluchistan between 1984 and 1987. The second phase (162 small subprojects) began in 1987 in NWFP and Baluchistan and one district in Punjab.

Afforestation and watershed management subprojects. Forests cover only 3.7 percent of the land in Pakistan, and only 1.2 percent of total forests are commercially productive. The forestry subprojects aimed to rehabilitate forests and watersheds that had deteriorated as a result of the added demand by immigrants for fuelwood supplies and livestock grazing areas. All subprojects focused on preventing soil loss by surface or gully erosion, and reducing rainfall runoff in seriously denuded watersheds to prevent and mitigate flood damage. Efforts were also made to protect the remaining forests from illicit use and afforestation, especially in the NWFP. There the focus was on restoring ground and tree cover; reducing soil erosion from overgrazing, cutting, and burning; and preventing surface runoff - to produce stabler stream flows. This subproject emphasized community participation in rural tree planting programs and natural forest management. The watershed management subprojects (mainly in Baluchistan) aimed to promote soil conservation practices, improve fuelwood production, and increase groundwater infiltration.

Irrigation and flood protection subprojects. These 106 subprojects (24 in Phase I, and 82 in Phase II) were to build spurs, bunds, and walls to protect disaster-prone areas from floods in NWFP, Baluchistan, and Punjab. In addition to minimizing flood hazards in villages and refugee camps, the projects are expected to improve agricultural output by protecting arable lands from excesive surface runoff and erosion.

Technical assistance was provided to help the pilot extension program in forestry and watershed management, to monitor the work of Afghans and locals, and to advise technical staff. Immigrants were trained in afforestation and environmental management and protection techniques, including tree planting, flood protection, drainage, and soil conservation. Pilot schemes were developed to reduce fuelwood consumption at the household level.

Sustainable environmental management

This project has been an excellent vehicle for involving the refugee community itself in alleviating some of the damage refugees have done to Pakistan’s environment and infrastructure. It illustrates how to integrate strategic work on conservation of natural resources, disaster prevention and mitigation, and the generation of jobs and income.