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close this bookEnvironmental Impact of Sudden Population Displacements - Expert Consultation on Priority Policy Issues and Humanitarian Aid (European Commission Humanitarian Office, 1995, 28 p.)
close this folder3. OVERVIEW OF POLICY ISSUES
View the document(introduction...)
View the document3.1. Environment and Sudden Population Displacement: Policy Issues for Humanitarian Action and Development Programmes (D. Guha-Sapir, Université Catholique de Louvain and M. Salih, Institute of Social Studies-The Hague)
View the document3.2. What Makes Emergencies Different? Interrelations of Development, Environment and Disasters (T. Cannon, University of Greenwich-London)
View the document3.3. Environmental Issues: UNHCR’s Experience and Response (R. Thiadens and H. Mori, UNHCR-Geneva)
View the document3.4. Environmental Change in Refugee Affected Areas: Research Needs and Future Directions (R. Black, University of Sussex-Brighton)

3.3. Environmental Issues: UNHCR’s Experience and Response (R. Thiadens and H. Mori, UNHCR-Geneva)

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 UNHCR’s 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, UNHCR’s 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.