UNEP PUBLISHES FINAL REPORT AFTER CAPACITY BUILDING ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS OF HUMAN DISPLACEMENT IN LIBERIA
MONROVIA, 6 October, 2006
– An estimated 800,000 people – around one-quarter of the country’s population – were forced to leave their homes during almost 14 years of conflict in Liberia. More than half of these people had, until early 2006, lived as internally displaced persons (IDPs), many of them in congested camps built for this purpose. The scale of the displacement meant that environmental considerations were not always taken into account when camp sites were initially located and established. Now that all IDP camps have been closed, the ecological impact of the sustained presence of so many people in confined areas has become quite evident. Many natural resources – trees, soils, water courses – as well as landscapes such as watersheds have been seriously degraded. Social and economic activities were also disrupted, particularly those of host communities.
UNEP’s response to these issues was to launch a project that commenced in 2005 with a sequence of four stakeholder meetings and three training workshops which included lectures and site assessments for over forty participants from government agencies, humanitarian and environmental NGOs and United Nations. The training covered all aspects of the displacement process: Contingency planning, Site Identification and selection, Camp planning, Camp establishment and management, Camp closure and rehabilitation, Return and re-integration.
The UNEP project, funded by the governments of Sweden and Norway, aimed to promote awareness and to increase the capacity of government officials and local NGOs to take appropriate preventative and remedial actions to limit environmental impacts in refugee/IDP operations and resettlement operations. The training aimed to provide technical guidance from an international best practice perspective as well as practical Liberian case studies, with a particular focus on the return of former IDPs and refugees to their former homes or counties, and the subsequent closure and rehabilitation of camps.
Participants at the final training workshop produced an 18 point checklist on the environmental considerations of camp closure and rehabilitation and these issues have now been taken forward in the IDP Consultative Forum, the policy-making body on IDP repatriation and reintegration activities, in the assessment process of closed IDP camps. The phased recommendations are presently being implemented by Environmental Foundation for Africa (whose staff were part of the training events), with funding provided by UNHCR.
An additional component of the project was to promote the use of environmental vulnerability mapping. This process mapped areas according to their ecological value and environmental vulnerability and is of use in Liberia’s contingency planning on displacement – be it displacement from conflict or natural disasters.
Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, highlighted the need for “The international community and Liberian authorities to work closely together to ensure that sustainable practices of natural resource management and use were actively encouraged and supported, particularly in those areas receiving large numbers of returnees”.
Further details of this process are contained in UNEP’s publication “Environmental Considerations of Human Displacement in Liberia: A Guide for Decision-makers and Practitioners”
Notes for Editors
The civil in Liberia lasted almost 15 years, from 1989 to 1995. An estimated 800,000 people were displaced by conflict, more than half of them being internally displaced people (IDPs). More than 340,000 Liberians sought refuge in other countries, mainly in Guinea (149,600 people), Sierra Leone (67,200), Côte d’Ivoire (74,200) and Ghana (42,400).
Twenty-two official camps were established for IDPs in Montserrado, Margibi and Bong counties. Most camps were established close to Monrovia and in a north-easterly direction along the road to Gbarnga. Many of the camps were close to each other: nine were located within a radius of just 4km. Fifteen of the camps were situated in a catchment upstream of the proposed Marshall protected area located on the coast.
Closure of IDP camps began in mid-2005 and was completed in April 2006.
Displaced people commonly rely on natural resources: poles for shelter construction, palm fronds and grasses for roofing materials, wild game, berries and fruit as dietary supplements. Charcoal making was also practiced in most IDP settings in Liberia as a means of income generation.
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