Looking After the Land
The sudden arrival of large numbers of people in a small area can place significant pressure on the local environment. Refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) often have no choice but to rely on natural resources for their survival, particularly during an emergency. Trees may be cut to build or support simple shelters, wood may be collected to cook meals or to keep warm, and wild game, fruit, herbs and other plants might be gathered as a source of food or medicine. Unless controlled, these and related activities can quickly get out of hand and have a negative impact on the environment as well as the displaced and host populations.
Camps for displaced people are never meant to be permanent, though many countries have hosted refugees or IDPs in the same place for several decades. Strategies and actions need to be implemented that address key environmental issues, prevent environmental degradation from taking place and help avoid conflicts arising over competition for natural resources.
UNHCR recognizes the potential damage that camps and settlements can have on the environment, as well as on the local economy and relations with host communities. To this end, the refugee agency has developed an overarching policy to deal with environmental issues. Equally important, UNHCR develops and supports a range of field projects that help reduce or overcome some of the damage caused by humanitarian operations. UNHCR also responds to new, emerging threats such as climate change.