Looking After the Land
Refugees and internally displaced people often have to rely on natural resources for their survival, particularly during an emergency. Trees may be cut to build or support simple shelters; firewood may be collected to cook meals or to keep warm; and wild game, fruit, herbs and other plants might be gathered as a source of food or medicine. These natural resources are also often used for livelihood and income-generation activities, such as agriculture or making charcoal to sell in local markets. However, unsustainable use of natural resources can lead to environmental degradation, with lasting impacts on natural resources and on the well-being of refugee and host communities relying on the environment.
Camps are never meant to be permanent, though many countries have refugees or internally displaced people (IDP) in the same place for several decades. UNHCR recognizes the potential damage that camps and settlements can have on the environment and the effect this has on the local economy and relations with host communities. As such, we are committed to reforestation, using selected native, fast-growing trees at designated sites close to existing camps. Where possible, women's groups are organized and supported in tree-planting activities, from establishing nurseries to after care and harvesting of fruit and other resources. This provides livelihood and income-generation opportunities for refugee and host communities.
Such a commitment to the environment requires, to the greatest extent possible, sound environmental management practices in all phases of refugee and IDP operations. Good practices are being promoted and applied at the field level, particularly in project planning, implementation, management and monitoring. To this end, UNHCR has developed an overarching policy to address environmental challenges, and the impact this has on the welfare of refugees and IDPs.