UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - The Environment
Refugee-related environmental problems have become serious both in type and extent. People's lives depend on the quality of the surrounding environment, which may provide food, water, fuel and building materials. In a refugee situation, excessive damage to the environment, such as deforestation, soil erosion, loss of wildlife and the depletion and contamination of water resources, not only causes deterioration of refugees' welfare but also leads to competition with local communities over scarce resources. In turn, concerns for the environment may influence a country's decision to provide asylum to refugees. UNHCR's core mandate to protect refugees could be undermined if environmental concerns are ignored or inadequately addressed.
Policy and Guidelines
UNHCR's environment programme aims to prevent or mitigate the negative effects of refugee settlements on the environment, and, when necessary, to rehabilitate damaged surroundings. In 1996, UNHCR published its Environmental Guidelines, which are based on four environmental principles: prevention before cure, an integrated approach, local participation and cost effectiveness. The environment should be considered from the very beginning of an operation. Simple and practical exercises in the early stages can save a significant amount of money that might be required for environmental rehabilitation later on. Environmental activities should not be isolated from other refugee relief operations. Rather, they should be integrated into all relevant sectoral activities, such as forestry, agriculture, shelter, water, sanitation and education. Refugees and local communities should be involved in planning and implementing environmental activities, such as designing energy-saving stoves and planting trees. Their participation will contribute to the projects' success, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness - an increasing concern in the current climate of budgetary constraints.
UNHCR is vigorously promoting environmental activities in the field, including environmental planning, an environmental database, energy-saving practices, reforestation and environmental education. In 1999 these activities will be further developed and expanded to countries where environmental problems have not been fully addressed.
Environmental action plans have been or are currently being drawn up for UNHCR's operations in the United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Field environmental coordinators have been deployed to these countries and others, like the Sudan, to play active roles in planning, monitoring and coordinating environment-related projects.
UNHCR maintains a geographical database of refugee-related environmental data, using satellite imagery, geographical information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS). Information gathered this way is essential to good planning, management and monitoring of environmental activities, and provides general support to all phases of refugee operations, from emergencies to monitoring to rehabilitation. Environmental indicators are also being developed to help monitor the environment and environmental activities in a practical and user-friendly way.
UNHCR is promoting energy-saving practices to prevent or mitigate damage to forests and vegetation caused by harvesting firewood. One such activity is the production and distribution of energy-saving stoves; but other simpler practices, such as soaking beans before cooking, using milled grains and providing lids for pots, are also promoted to ensure reduced cooking times and increased energy efficiency. Alternative energy technologies, such as solar cookers, grass stoves and biodigesters, are being tested and evaluated.
Keeping nurseries and planting seedlings are common practices for reforestation; but UNHCR is also promoting the closure of some areas, where weather and soil conditions are favourable, to foster natural regeneration. Reforestation is promoted not only in the rehabilitation phase but also in early stages of refugee relief operations so destruction of vegetation and its consequences, like soil erosion, are minimized. In protected areas, like the national parks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reforestation activities are linked with support to park management.
Raising awareness among refugees and local communities is important to encourage local participation in environmental management. UNHCR is promoting both formal and informal environmental education as well as awareness-raising campaigns by producing and disseminating practical environmental education materials, training teachers and organizing workshops.