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UNHCR marks World Environment Day

Briefing notes

UNHCR marks World Environment Day

6 June 2003

Yesterday, June 5, was World Environment Day. UNHCR joined the UN Environment Programme and the international community in celebrating the day by raising awareness about environmental matters that are closely linked to operations involving refugees. UNHCR marked the day at its headquarters and through activities in the field including tree planting, camp cleanups, and demonstrations of environmentally friendly practices such as the use of energy-efficient stoves and soil conservation techniques.

This year's World Environment Day is particularly relevant to refugee related programmes as 2003 has been declared the International Year of Freshwater. The World Environment Day theme was "Water - 2 billion people are dying for it". Access to safe water is a basic human right, and is often, for many refugees, the key to life or death. Refugees, when they arrive in large numbers, and unexpectedly, invariably require water to be available for drinking, washing and cooking. These large influxes have major environmental impacts including degradation of natural resources, with disruption of the natural water cycle affecting water quality and quantity.

UNHCR strives to address environmental issues at an early stage in refugee operations, and seeks also the collaboration and support of refugee hosting countries, the donor community and other international organisations to help prevent degradation and redress environmental damage.