Monitoring and evaluation
UNHCR's field operations rely on having access to accurate, up-to-date information. An Environmental Monitoring System was established within the Environment Unit in 1995 to provide this service, specifically to monitor and assess environmental activities and operations in the field.
One of the main aims of this work is to provide UNHCR staff and partner organisations with accurate, detailed information (often as a map) which is essential for successful planning, management and monitoring of environmental activities. Assistance is also provided with planning during the emergency phase of operations, as well as with general programme and technical planning.
Continuous monitoring of refugee-affected regions provides invaluable data on the status of local environments and is especially useful in determining the level of environmental degradation (mainly deforestation) around selected camps. Such information provides a clear indication of the timing and scale of problems as they evolve, as well as precise information for longer term site management and rehabilitation.
Technological assistance such as satellite images (SPOT or Landsat) and global positioning systems (GPS) are employed by the Environmental Monitoring System. Satellite images linked to geographic information systems (GIS) and GPS have already been used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal and Tanzania. Data from such images have helped monitor the rate and extent of deforestation in and around the Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo), a World Heritage Site of considerable ecological importance. This study has also contributed to knowledge of the park's flora, as the most recent vegetation map for this region dates from the 1950s. In yet another situation, in Kenya, data gathered on the origin of refugees, as well as the number and location of different ethnic groups within the camp, is being mapped with a view to improved camp planning and management.
Data from these operations are stored in digital format in a global refugee environment-related database. From this, the precise location of refugee camps can be mapped with corresponding information of the main environmental components (e.g. protected areas, wetlands, World Heritage Sites and climatic data). Likewise, the number of refugees at each camp can be quickly determined, as can essential baseline data on the main environmental parameters surrounding these camps.
Regular monitoring (six month or annual intervals), using both aerial videos/photos, satellite images and ground truthing, allows detailed analysis on the evolution of the main environmental components around specific camps, helping UNHCR and partner organisations identify where remedial actions might be required.