It is my honor
today, to be present among you and deliver on behalf of Dr. Klaus Topfer, Executive
Director of UNEP, a speech on conflicts and their impacts on the environment in Africa. At
the outset, let me underscore the desire of Dr. Topfer to be here with you in this august
assembly, and personally speak to this distinguished audience. Unfortunately, prior
engagements prevented him from doing so. Therefore I am very pleased to discuss with you
UNEPs position on the topic.
This paper is
articulated around two axes. First, it discusses the issue of environmental security and
the role of UNEP. Then, it presents the case of the UNEP rapid assessment need mission
which was undertaken to inquire about the impact of refugees on the environment in Guinea.
ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY AND THE ROLE OF UNEP
population, with growing economic development, has resulted in a pattern of resource
utilization unsustainable by the life-support systems and ecological processes underlying
economic activities in the various regions of the world and in the globe as a whole. The
widespread destruction of ecosystems and the consequent losses in biological diversity
testify to the unsustainability of current human actions. Recognition of this problem has
brought sustainable development on to the political agenda for the past decade.
Ministerial Environment Forum of UNEP Governing Council, which met in Malmö, Sweden in
last May reiterated such continuing threats to the ecosystems and the environment with
Despite the many
successful and continuing efforts of the international community since the United Nations
Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and the United Nations Conference
on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and some progress having
been achieved, the environment and the natural resource base that supports life on Earth
continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate.
Environment Outlook 2000 of UNEP also provides a compelling assessment of the serious
nature of the environmental threats faced by the international community. Special
attention should be paid to unsustainable consumption patterns among the richer segments
in all countries, particularly developed countries. It is worrisome that environmental
stewardship is lagging behind economic and social development, and a rapidly growing
population is placing increased pressures on the environment.
threats resulting from the accelerating trends of urbanization and the development of
mega-cities, the tremendous risk of climate change, the freshwater crisis and its
consequences for food security and the environment, the unsustainable exploitation and
depletion of biological resources, drought and desertification, and uncontrolled
deforestation, increasing environmental emergencies, the risk to human health and the
environment from hazardous chemicals, and land-based sources of pollution, are all issues
that need to be addressed.
The dawn of the
twenty-first century marks a defining moment in the efforts of the international community
to ensure that the growing trends of environmental degradation that threaten the
sustainability of the planet are arrested and reversed. Hence there is an urgent need for
reinvigorated international cooperation based on common concerns and a spirit of
international partnership and solidarity. We are at the crucial moment in human history
facing both risks and opportunities to destroy or secure the environmental basis of our
2. CONFLICTS AND
and the preparedness for warfare are most destructive not only to people but also to the
conflicts continued, with heavy loss of life, during the 1990s. Major conflicts have
plagued countries in Africa, Central Asia, Western Europe and West Asia over the past
several years. Loss of life in war is accompanied by increased pressure on ecosystems.
productivity collapse in war-affected areas, and there is a danger that environmental
damage will affect much wider areas than those directly involved in the conflict. This was
the case for both the Gulf War and the recent conflict in Yugoslavia. In the latter, the
destruction of chemical and petrochemical complexes in Serbia led to the pollution of the
Danube River, causing problems in the down stream countries of Bulgaria and Romania.
The flow of
refugees to neighboring Balkan countries also led to environmental problems and the spread
of disease. War related refugees are often compelled to extract fuel-wood and freshwater
resources at an unsustainable rate in order to survive.
In addition to the
environmental stress caused by warfare, there is now increasing concern that environmental
degradation and resource shortages may actually cause armed conflict. Examples of
environmental degradation capable of escalating into violence include severe water
shortages, widespread desertification, health-threatening toxic contamination, and refugee
flight from environmental wastelands.
nations, increasing demands for limited natural resources create domestic tensions, as
well as intensifying the pressure between private and public interests. National security
is now increasingly dependent on environmental security.
potential sources of conflicts arising from environmental problems may include:
- HONOURABLE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENTS,
- DISTINGUISHED GUESTS,
- LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
environmental impacts (e.g. trans-boundary air pollution or marine pollution);
policies that may allow activities that could cause harmful trans-boundary impacts on the
environment, or the lack of actions to prevent such activities;
degradation in a country caused by activities of foreign governments or persons, including
multinational corporations (e.g. relocation of hazardous industrial activities to other
Violation of the
obligations under international environmental or environment-related agreements.
concepts in addressing the relationship between conflicts and environmental issues
with sustainable development, such as the precautionary approach, prevention of
environmental harm, common but differentiated responsibilities of States, global
partnership and equity;
implementation, compliance with and enforcement of international environmental
cooperative relations in the field of the environment; and
decision-making, on the basis of prior consultation on the major planned activities that
might cause environmental harm or have significant environmental impacts.
3. APPROACH OF
activities that could facilitate building environmental security include:
Facilitate the exchange
of information among countries in the region, such as early notifications;
international platform for policy dialogue or planning of activities that might cause
environmental harm (including trans-boundary environmental impact assessment);
Governments in building their capacities to implement, comply with and enforce
international environmental commitments;
Develop a regional
mechanism to facilitate compliance with the agreed environmental commitments; and
Facilitate or provide a
means of consultation and policy dialogue.
As highlighted in
the Malmö meeting of UNEP, the root causes of global environmental degradation are
embedded in social and economic problems, such as pervasive poverty, unsustainable
production and consumption patterns, inequity in distribution of wealth, and the debt
burden. Such root causes are also likely causes of economic and social instability, which
in turn could cause problems in political stability and the security of nations.
While there is the
need to further clarify many aspects of environmental security and its linkage to
conflicts, it appears that tackling the root causes of environmental degradation would
have positive effects for the prevention of conflicts, confidence building and building of
solidarity and cooperation.
recognition of interdependence of economic, social, developmental and environmental
issues, UNEP is strengthening its functions as the principal United Nations body in the
field of the environment by focusing more on the inter-linkages of those issues and the
root causes of the problems.
The success in
combating environmental degradation and its root causes is dependent on the full
participation of all actors in society, which is based on an aware and educated
population, respect for ethical and spiritual values and cultural diversity, and
protection of indigenous knowledge. Further action in this respect would also contribute
to the building of a cooperative society.
There is an
alarming discrepancy between commitments and action. Goals and targets agreed by the
international community in relation to sustainable development must be implemented in a
timely fashion. The mobilization of domestic and international resources, including
development assistance, far beyond current levels is vital to the success of this
endeavor. UNEP's action in this respect is also important for the enhancement of the
building blocks for environmental security.
At the Malmö
meeting, environmental ministers from around the world concluded their declaration as
This is the vision
of UNEP. By following these lines, UNEP will continue its actions to build the basis of
II - THE GUINEA
RAPID ASSESSMENT NEED MISSION
1 THE IMPACT OF
REFUGEES ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Further to a
request from the Government of the Republic of Guinea, the United Nations Secretary
General directed the Executive Director of UNEP to assess the impact of refugees on the
environment. A Joint UNEP/UNCHS mission visited Guinea from 29 November to 7 December
1999, and met in Conakry with UNDP, UNHCR, World Bank, IMF, UNICEF, FAO, WFP, USAID, GTZ,
French Cooperation, the European Union, as well as Government Departments such as Refugee
Coordination, Environment, Forestry, Agriculture and Habitat. The mission also visited the
refugee campsites in the Districts of Forecariah, Nzerekore, Macenta and Guekedou.
The issue of
refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone in Guinea is very complex; therefore political
sensitivity is paramount in any attempt to address it. The main issue is the need for
peace and stability in the sub-region. After ten years of presence on Guinean territory
the refugees have blended into the society, which is very similar to theirs. As a result,
it is difficult for the authorities to ask for their repatriation. Also many refugees are
not accounted for in the official statistics. Some estimates come to around one million
refugees whereas UNHCRs number is 600,000. The reality is that about 40% of refugees
are urban dwellers and are not registered in the camps established in rural areas.
The efforts made
by Guinea to accommodate the refugees are commendable. On the individual side, the Guinean
welcomed his brother and sister refugee into his home, sharing his meager resources with
them, well before the government and the international community started to assist. The
Government of Guinea also contributed significantly in addressing refugees issues by
diverting regular expenditures of the budget to cater for their needs. This resulted in a
great imbalance in the national accounts. Also, in order to promote peace and security in
Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Government sent peacekeeping forces paid by the national
There is a debate
on the impact of the refugees on the environment. Some studies concluded that this impact
is minimal or positive, whereas other theories support the contrary. All over the
territory covered (more than 700 km of rural roads), the mission noticed that the Guinean
environment is degrading, and that much of this damage could be attributed to the presence
of refugees in the Province of Guinee Forestiere. The mission found that the real
debate is on the size of the refugee population, which should include the population of
refugees in urban areas who are seriously damaging the fragile infrastructure of small
towns and tampering on rivers, sewage and waste removal systems. The integration of rural
and urban refugees into the equation provides the true picture of their impact on the
environment (urban and natural).
OBSERVATIONS ON THE IMPACT OF REFUGEES IN GUINEA
Guinea has lost
most of its forest resources in the last decade. The mission only noticed patches of
remaining forests in the Province of Guinee Forestiere. Natural indigenous forests were
cleared to benefit commercial loggers and make way for agricultural lands. The great
majority of slopes were denuded of their natural palm-trees. This has seriously affected
the landscape and resulted in soil erosion. Losses in vegetal cover and agricultural
practices in valley areas, have reduced the availability of fresh water resources. This
phenomenon is exacerbated by overuse of water resources by urban dwellers and the
discharges of waste into waterways. Bio-diversity, and especially fauna, is also affected,
as the mission did not encounter any wildlife in the region visited.
also be granted to human settlements. The number of refugees in Conakry is estimated at
more than 100,000 or more than 10% of the population. In Nzerekore, with 50,000
inhabitants, it is estimated that at least another 50,000 refugees dwell in this town. The
worst case was in Guekedou where the city harbors 150,000 refugees in a small town, which
had a population of less than 20,000 before the arrival of refugees. This demographic
pressure on the towns infrastructure culminated in total chaos regarding the
provision of basic social services, and degradation of the natural environment.
In light of the
above, the mission recommends that urgent actions are needed. The main recommendation of
the mission is the need to secure Peace and Stability in the Sub-region. Addressing
environmental issues in Guinea alone can not be sustainable if Liberia, Sierra Leone and
Guinea-Bissau are not brought into the framework. However, the UN assistance ought to
start with Guinea by supporting the process leading to a Donor Conference initiated by
In addition, the
top priority is to organize a coordination mechanism to tackle problems on the ground. A
UN Coordinator should be appointed to initiate the Environment and Sustainable Development
Initiative in the Gulf of Guinea. This initiative should adopt an integrated approach and
be dealt with on a sub-regional and inter-agency basis. UNEP should lead the process in
collaboration with Habitat, UNDP, UNHCR and other relevant organizations. UNEP will
prepare a proposal to this effect. Second, immediate attention should be given to the
availability of food to refugees through WFP. Finally, an urgent public sanitation package
must be implemented to help affected towns to cope with the disasters they face.
- " At the dawn of this new century, we
have at our disposal the human and material resources to achieve sustainable development,
not as an abstract concept but as a concrete reality. The unprecedented developments in
production and information technologies, the emergence of a younger generation with a
clear sense of optimism, solidarity and values, women increasingly aware and with an
enhanced and active role in society - all point to the emergence of a new consciousness.
We can decrease poverty by half by 2015 without degrading the environment, we can ensure
environmental security through early warning, we can better integrate environmental
considerations in economic policy, we can better co-ordinate legal instruments and we can
realise a vision of a world without slums. We commit ourselves to realising this common