3.3. Environmental Issues: UNHCRs 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 UNHCRs 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
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, UNHCRs 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
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