UNHCR marks World Environment Day on Sunday
UNHCR joins the U.N. Environmental Programme in observing World Environment Day. Environmental issues are closely intertwined with refugee operations, especially large-scale ones. UNHCR's interest stems not only from general environmental concerns, but also from the negative impact large refugee populations can sometimes have on host environments, thus possibly having repercussions on the institution of asylum or a nation's willingness to accept refugees.
The unexpected arrival of large numbers of refugees, as well as lengthy stays in asylum countries, can have significant environmental impacts. Trees are cut for housing, cooking and to clear land for crop production; water is collected for drinking, cooking and washing; and substantial amounts of waste are produced. In the absence of timely and appropriate measures to mitigate the impact, such activities can quickly lead to deforestation, soil erosion or competition with host communities for scarce natural resources. This can result in conflicts and, in extreme situations, can even influence the decision of a country to accept refugees. Thus, over the years, UNHCR has been involved in various efforts, including environmental education and awareness raising; promotion of fuel-efficient stoves and other devices; sustainable agricultural practices; and reforestation / forest management. All are aimed at lessening the impact of refugees on the environment of the hosting areas, and fostering rehabilitation work after their departure.
A number of UNHCR field operations are planning special events for World Environment Day on Sunday. They include demonstrations of sound environmental practices; awareness raising campaigns; camp clean-up projects; tree planting; games, competitions and cultural events. As in past years, many of these activities are undertaken at the wish of refugees. They want to keep their camps green and make a difference by improving their living conditions and contributing to improve environmental management.
World Environment Day is used as a catalyst not only to launch projects and activities around the world, but also to encourage closer working ties between UNHCR and its international and local partners. We are urging states, donors and other organizations to work with us to address environmental issues early on the refugee operations.