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Strengthening environmental initiatives, Liveria

Strengthening environmental initiatives, Liveria

1 January 2001

Building on a pilot community-based environmental initiative in Nimba county, east-central Liberia, undertaken by the Environmental Foundation for Africa, UNHCR is supporting an initiative to develop educational and practical schemes for environmental management in six of the eight refugee camps in Liberia.

In a country that has been heavily impacted as a result of a seven-year civil war that ended early 1997, environmental consideration has not featured high on the agenda. Yet, Liberia has much to gain from managing its natural resources which represent one of the country's main sources of revenue. To date, virtually no support has been provided to environmental activities with refugee populations as humanitarian projects have had too many other priority issues to address.

The high number of refugees in Liberia - more than 100,000 from Sierra Leone - together with the fact that many of these refugees have been forced to move from one site to another on more than one occasion has had a visible impact on the environment.

Recognising these aspects, and the need for action, the Refugee Environmental Action Programme was established in June 1999 to develop educational and practical schemes for environmental management in six of the eight refugee camps in Liberia. By limiting environmental degradation the programme will also help create a more favourable acceptance of refugees in Liberia, which could be highly significant with regards to any future population movements within, or from outside, the country. The camps may also be viewed as potential learning centres where large groups of people can be educated in a way that will eventually benefit their own country, as it is expected that the refugees will one day return to Sierra Leone.

UNHCR is increasingly promoting the need for multifaceted, integrated approaches to its environmental activities. In keeping with this, the specific objectives of the programme are to:

  • Raise environmental consciousness: preliminary investigations suggest that the refugees, in general, have a low awareness of environmental issues, including the relationship between sanitation and water pollution, the need to dispose of waste correctly, and measures that might be used to prevent or control erosion. Community sessions will be undertaken to raise awareness, with an average of 15 hours dedicated to this task during the early phase of this project.
  • Address domestic energy supply and demand: The programme foresees the promotion and manufacture of 5,000 fuel-efficient stoves, which would be distributed on a pro-rata basis to populations in all project sites.
  • Promote reforestation: There has been significant removal of vegetation cover in all refugee accommodation areas. The fact that many refugees were afraid to venture too far from the camps also meant that deforestation has been concentrated in and around certain areas. Soil erosion, decreased soil fertility, excessive wind damage to structures, and a general lack of shade are characteristic of many refugee-affected areas. To address these problems, the project will assist with the raising, planting and care of 50,000 seedlings among community members.
  • Improve agricultural techniques: Traditional techniques practised by many refugees are not appropriate for the camp areas, which have much higher population densities than the places of origin of the refugees. The project aims to encourage at least 50 per cent of the targeted population to modifying and improve their current agricultural practices.