Environmental Degradation and Population Flows Journal article by Astri Suhrke; Journal of International Affairs, Vol.

47, 1994 Pages: 1-1 Print Return to Read Print Center

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Environmental degradation and population flows by Astri Suhrke So-called "environmental refugees" have made their appearance in the academic literature and public discourse, accompanied by widely diverging definitions and predictions. Some scholars fear environmental degradation will produce "waves of environmental refugees" with destabilizing effects at home and abroad.(2) Much of the focus is on Africa, presumably the most vulnerable area, where, some argue, the general pressure of people on land and, in particular, deepening desertification have displaced millions of people and will displace more in years to come.(3) This paper attempts to systematize the links between environmental degradation and population movements by addressing three basic questions: First, is environmental degradation a cause of population movements, or is it even possible to isolate and analyze the impact of the environmental factor? Second, what kinds of population flows are associated with environmental degradation? More specifically, do they correspond to common concepts of migrants and refugees? Third, what are appropriate strategies of response to deal with the problems that may result? This paper will discuss only environmental degradation in the developing world. The consequences of environmental change are particularly severe -- and the problems most acute -- in poor agricultural communities, where production system are heavily dependent on natural cycles and means to insure against disasters are lacking.(4) DOES ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION CAUSE POPULATION FLOWS? Common forms of environmental degradation associated with out-migration include desertification, land degradation, deforestation and rising sea levels induced by global warming. Recognizing the importance of these processes, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development identified four fragile ecosystems: regions with severe deforestation, regions with severe desertification, low-lying coastal areas and "vanishing" islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans. There is considerable literature dealing with the effects of migration on the environment, including urban pollution attributable to migration-related growth and deforestation caused by new settlers, both readily observable phenomena.(5) The opposite causality is more obscure, and the literature is meager. Yet two different and opposing perspectives can be discerned. In one, which can be called the minimalist view, environmental change is a contextual variable that can contribute to migration, but analytical difficulties and empirical shortcomings make it hazardous to draw firm conclusions. The other perspective sets out a maximalist view, which posits that environmental degradation is a direct cause of large-scale displacement of people. The Minimalists The minimalists are primarily the migration experts.(6) In the general migration literature, environmental change does not figure as a separate, causal variable, although older theories did include natural disasters in the category of "physical" factors. Neoclassical analysts focus on economic factors and rational-choice analysis without

allowing for environmental variables per se.(7) The same applies to migration theorists who, in a neo-Marxist tradition, emphasize the systemic conditioning of individual decisions to move.(8) Among demographers, the case-study literature fares little better. For instance, after observing the recent sharp increase in migration in Indonesia -- a nation with serious environmental problems and known for its large and complex patterns of population movements -- the eminent demographer Graeme Hugo concluded, "Employment-related motives predominate in shaping how many people move, who moves, where they move from and where they move to."(9) Yet common sense, as well as catastrophes such as the drought in the Sahel of northern Africa, tells us that environmental change can cause out-migration by affecting structural economic conditions. Environmental change, such as the recurring, devastating floods in Bangladesh, also can be the proximate cause of population displacement. One solution Richard Bilsborrow suggests is to treat the environment as a contextual factor that influences the decision making of the potential migrant.(10) Land degradation, for instance, can lead to reduced income; frequent flooding brought about by upstream deforestation translates into higher risk for families living downstream. More systematically, Bilsborrow suggests three categories of manifestations: Environmental change may induce out-migration via income effects (by reducing average income), via risk effects (by increasing the instability of income and, one might add, other utilities) or via social effects (by making the environment less pleasant or healthy). This is a useful elaboration of a common decision-making model of migration. Here environmental degradation appears as a contextual variable that affects the economic, social and risk calculations of the migrant. The effect may be on the level of the individual, the community or, conceivably, the entire nation. More narrowly, Mary Kritz focuses on climate change as a cause of migration.(11) Reviewing a series of contemporary case studies from the developing world, she finds it difficult to demonstrate that climate change is a primary engine of migration. For rural people, migration is one of several coping strategies to deal with poverty, which in itself reflects a combination of social, economic and political conditions. The impact of climate change per se on this process cannot be easily isolated. The nature of the data also creates problems, as there are few historically recorded cases of marked climate change, and it is difficult to locate relevant migration data for these periods (for example, the "Little Ice Age" in Europe from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century). For our time, migration effects of the predicted global warming lie in the future. Perhaps the most that can be said about climate change as a cause of population flows, Kritz argues, is that its impact on population movements has been reduced over time by policy intervention. Since the ability to modify climate impact (e.g., through heating and cooling systems and agricultural techniques) is conditioned by the distribution of wealth, poor countries are more vulnerable than rich ones. This conclusion is echoed in the 1991 study Kritz helped prepare for the National Academy of Sciences.(12) Like Kritz, Bilsborrow makes only a modest claim for the importance of environmental degradation as a cause of out-migration. In two of his three case studies, Indonesia and Guatemala, environmental degradation appears as only one in a cluster of causes, although it is given more weight in the case study of Sudan. An analysis of this kind, however, tends to fall into a trap of its own. While searching for the impact of a particular process, such as land degradation or climate change, on migration, scholars recognize that migration, like other social processes, is not a monocausal phenomenon. The minimalist premise skews the discussion toward a negative answer: Environmental degradation by itself is not an important cause of

migration, nor can it be quantified easily to permit a multiple regression analysis to isolate the relative weight of individual variables. Hence, the search is abandoned. The Maximalists The maximalists, by contrast, tend to extract the environmental variable from a cluster of causes and proclaim the associated out-migration to be a direct result of environmental degradation. Evidence of this appears in the early writings of environmental analysts(13) and has been echoed in popularized versions. "Drought in Africa and deforestation in Haiti have resulted in waves of refugees," a recent Time article proclaimed.(14) The maximalists produced the first generation of literature on what they call "environmental refugees." In a now-classic study prepared for the United Nations Environment Program in 1985, Essam El-Hinnawi wrote that "all displaced people can be described as environmental refugees, having been forced to leave their original habitat (or having left voluntarily) to protect themselves from harm and/ or to seek a better quality of life."(15) He then identified three subcategories: those who temporarily have had to leave their traditional habitat due to a natural disaster or similar event; those who have been permanently displaced and resettled in a new area; and those who have migrated on their own. A 1988 paper on "environmental refugees," written by Jodi Jacobson for the Worldwatch Institute, dramatized the problem and was given wide publicity. Like El-Hinnawi, Jacobson based her analysis on a very general notion of refugees -- "people fleeing from environmental decline" -- and made no distinction between internally and internationally displaced persons.(16) Nevertheless, the paper moved the debate forward by identifying major types of "unnatural disaster" leading to displacement of people, namely floods, droughts, toxification, deforestation and rising sea levels. At about the same time, the report of the International Panel on Climate Change focused international attention on the greenhouse effect and rising sea levels, suggesting that tens of millions of people might eventually be displaced. Since broad categorizations invite large numbers, the estimates of so-called environmental refugees ran into the millions. El-Hinnawi reported that 15 million people were affected by flood annually in the 1970s. Jacobson aggregated quite diverse cases, discussing the victims of Love Canal and Chernobyl alongside the 24 million Egyptians who, under a worst-case scenario, might be displaced by rising sea levels by the year 2100. The problems with these initial studies are obvious. They made no recognition of the customary distinction between refugees and migrants -- that is, between persons who move mostly voluntarily and those who are compelled to flee. Nor was there a distinction between underlying and proximate causes of displacement. Environmental degradation was cited as the cause of a variety of population flows that were lumped into an immense but vague category of "refugee." Expansive definitions and inflated numbers had a short-lived shock effect on the public but were rejected as trivial by scholars. U.N. and national policy makers feared that alarmist thinking would frighten a public already suffering from "compassion fatigue" toward refugees. From a policy perspective, it was unclear which organizations had a mandate to care for "environmental refugees," and the categorization of beneficiaries was so broad that it caused unjustified alarm and was therefore useless. For example, institutions and relief measures relevant to industrial pollution in the United States were hardly applicable to cases of peasants displaced by floods in Bangladesh or driven by famine across state borders in Africa. Since scholars of environmental refugees were unable to marshal a critical mass of social scientific interest, their discourse nearly died. This was unfortunate, as the studies

contained important and relatively unexplored issues that were amenable to critical analysis. To revive the debate, a two-step rescue process is needed, one that transcends the dichotomy between minimalists and maximalists by anchoring the analysis of causes in the broader development process and that is based on the distinction between migrants and refugees. Environmental Degradation and the Development Process In a broader development perspective, environmental degradation appears as a proximate cause of migration, while the underlying factors are population pressures and the patterns of resource use. These interact so as to occasionally produce large out-migrations, as in the following examples: In Haiti, deforestation is most fundamentally a result of population growth and a political economy characterized by systematic oppression, inequality and gross corruption. Deforestation, in turn, has led to soil erosion, which has an independent and accelerating effect on poverty. This has contributed to a sustained and substantial out-migration from the island for many years.(17) In the Sahel -- a broad belt running from the Sudan in eastern Africa to Mauritania in the west -- commodity production has encroached on land traditionally used by pastoralists, steadily forcing them into smaller areas. The weakness of pastoral society in relation to the established African state precluded effective protest. This combined with rapid demographic and livestock growth to produce intense pressure on increasingly smaller grazing areas. Given the fragile, semi-arid nature of the environment, any minor occurrence could trigger disaster. Deepening drought, desertification and out-migration followed. In parts of northeast Brazil, the progressive conversion of land use from small-scale, subsistence agriculture to cattle ranching has meant reduced ground cover by the caatinga plant, known for its ability to recover after long dry spells.(18) Simultaneously, increasing population pressure on land has forced smallholders to shorten the fallow period that the plant needed to grow back. As the caatinga disappeared, the land eroded, and the region's drought-prone condition grew worse. Local farmers turned increasingly to out-migration. In all these cases, degradation took place in initially fragile environments, such as semiarid regions and tropical forests. But population pressures and the patterns of resource use accelerated the process. Various studies have shown population growth to be a central, underlying cause of environmental degradation and related migration. A close relationship between population growth and deforestation has been documented;(19) for instance, growing desertification in the Sahel has been linked closely to the rapid increase in both people and livestock. In Mauritania, a "spectacular increase in livestock" was cited as a cause of environmental degradation and massive migrations to urban areas well before the onset of the 1969 drought?(20) The same applies to the oft-cited "environmental refugees" from Bangladesh's coastal areas. Because of demographic pressures, population concentrations develop in marginal areas, where people are vulnerable to even small changes in the environment and risk forcible displacement. Focusing on the broader development process also reveals contradictory elements in the relationship between environmental degradation and migration. For instance, land degradation in an agricultural economy is often associated with out-migration -- in the extreme, creating Sahelian visions of emerging wastelands that mercilessly expel their people. In fact, of course, land degradation can be related to both in-migration and outmigration. In the Indian state of Punjab, agricultural modernization since the early 1970s has created such severe salinity problems that the entire region appears as a disaster area on a recent soil Map.(21) At the same time, Punjab's rapid economic growth -- of which

land degradation is but one result -- has given the state one of the heaviest in-migration rates in all of India, both on a seasonal and permanent basis.(22) Another common sequence appears in traditional slash-and-burn cultivation as practiced under contemporary demographic pressures. In Indonesia, for instance, poor farmers commonly settle on marginal hillside land, but after a few years of intensive cultivation declining yields force them to move on.(23) At the onset of the cycle, the land is still good, attracting an inflow of settlers. As the land becomes exhausted, populations reach the saturation point and out-migration commences. Thus land degradation changes from being a consequence to a cause of migration. The process represents in effect a pure form of unsustainable development.(24) Distinguishing Refugees from Migrants The distinction between migrants and refugees is controversial yet essential, because it corresponds to common sociological and legal categories. In legal terms, for the last halfcentury a refugee has been defined primarily with reference to the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons, which stipulates that to be considered a refugee, one must meet several criteria: The person has to be outside his or her country of origin, for reasons of "persecution," based on his or her "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." The convention excludes persons who, for whatever reasons, are internally displaced. Implicitly, the Convention also excludes those who are displaced across a state border due to drought, flood or loss of income induced by deforestation. People fleeing such environmental changes would not qualify for refugee status even under liberal interpretations of prevailing legal norms. The reason why the term "refugee" has been attached to a number of environmentally related population flows is grounded in sociological, not legal, reasoning. In both the arts and the social scientific literature, a refugee is understood as someone who is forced to flee involuntarily.(25) This process, over which the refugee has little control, leaves the refugee powerless and vulnerable. Migrants, by contrast, move by their own volition, although in response to disagreeable conditions ("push" factors) as well as anticipation of a better life ("pull" factors). Having somewhat greater control over the timing and direction of their movement, migrants have more power and are less vulnerable than are refugees. One would expect that similar distinctions could be discerned in a given migratory movement when environmental degradation is a prominent push factor. A number of people would be in refugee-like situations; others would not. Such a distinction has been observed in analyses of famine migrations.(26) In his classic study of the Solomon Islands, Raymond Firth depicts the labor migration from outlying islands to the plantations on the main islands as typical out-and-up mobility. When famine struck, however, a different kind of migration took place. Lacking resources at home, ablebodied men could no longer resist the labor-recruiters, and they all had to leave. The situation was all "push" and no "pull," as expressed in a local islander's lament: "I who sit here, I look on my children who are starving; I get my canoe and get ready to go."(27) In her studies of rural migrant communities in Tamil Nadu in southern India, Amrita Rangasami found famine-related migration to be distinct from more ordinary "modernization migration."(28) This was evident both in the social composition of the migrants and the terms of exchange for their labor. During the famine from 1974 to 1975, entire families from the Tanjavur district left to seek work. Families separated, and men took what were considered women's jobs. Wages and working conditions for migrant and seasonal labor deteriorated. The forced nature of the migration process was reflected in daily language; the laborers referred to themselves as "slaves of the famine."(29) In less

arduous years, by contrast, migrants were mostly men seeking better wages and working conditions on a seasonal basis. In a number of situations, one can postulate that environmentally related population flows divide into refugee-like situations and labor migration.(30) In extreme cases, environmental change can remove the economic foundation of the community altogether, such as when indigenous people lose their forests or fishing grounds. To survive at all, they face compulsory, refugee-like movement. Similar situations occur when agricultural communities are displaced by dams, coastal villages are flushed out by floods, and pastures are destroyed by drought. Others migrate before the situation becomes so desperate as to yield no choice. These are the more ordinary migrants. Whether a population movement consists of migrants or "environmental refugees" has important policy implications. Refugees typically face harsh conditions yet have limited time and few resources with which to respond. For that reason, outside parties have some moral and legal obligation to assist them. Migrants, as noted, are likely to have more control over their movement and to be incorporated into the market that, at least in part, prompted their migration. POPULATION FLOWS: REFUGEES OR MIGRANTS? Given that environmental degradation is at least a proximate cause of out-migration, what kind of population flows tend to follow? The popular notion of "environmental refugees" assumes that victims of environmental degradation become refugees. But is there something about the nature of environmental degradation that tends to produce refugee-like movements rather than migration? It has been argued that most forms of environmental degradation are "slow-onset," often hidden, processes that suddenly reach a threshold at which the damage may be irreversible.(31) The result of such degradation would indeed be forced and possibly massive population displacement. With few warning signs, the calamity suddenly strikes all members of the community, Norman Myers argues.(32) A forest, for instance, may be exploited for centuries, but the depletion and damage may go unnoticed until the selfrenewing capacity of the trees is obviously exhausted. "Quite suddenly...the tree stock starts to decline."(33) At the same time, Myers admits that the process of decline is gradual: "Season by season the self-renewing capacity becomes ever-more depleted."(34) The implications are selfevident and important as they lead to a different conclusion: The damage to the forest is not a hidden process that suddenly bursts into view only when well-advanced. Deforestation is a visible process that impresses itself upon the local people in very concrete terms. Every year they experience diminishing returns: There is a longer walk to the forest's edge, and less wood to collect. Some respond by migrating in search of alternative or additional work and become indistinguishable from other migrants. Only the least resourceful are unable to get out, compelled to wait passively for the end of the process. Theirs is a refugee-like situation, ending in starvation, placement in a relief camp or death. This sociological distinction between migrants and refugees seems to operate with respect to the most common forms of environmental degradation, including deforestation, rising sea levels, desertification and drought. Deforestation Deforestation can cause economic loss downstream through soil erosion, which exacerbates cycles of flood and drought. As farmers experience a loss of harvest, they tend to make less investment in the land, resulting in less productivity and output.(35) A typical response is for family members to migrate, seasonally or permanently, thereby inflating existing migration streams.(36)

Indigenous forest inhabitants are affected in a more fundamental way. Tribal people are bound to the forest in a cultural, social and economic sense that makes them very vulnerable to change. Whether they are physically displaced or integrated as laborers in a new economic activity, the loss of the forest means the destruction of the community and impoverishment of the individual. This has been observed among peoples of the rain forests in Central America and the Amazon basin and in India.(37) For these people, environmental change places them in a no-choice, refugee-like situation. Rising Sea Levels Rising sea levels are expected to affect coastal populations in China, Bangladesh and Egypt, as well as in the South Pacific atolls and the Maldives. Also, urban concentrations along river banks (as found in Karachi, Pakistan and Dhaka, Bangladesh) will be exposed. By all accounts, a rising sea level is a slow process. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, sea levels might rise by 30 to 110 centimeters by the year 2100, affecting 360,000 kilometers of coastline.(38) In a worst-case scenario, 13 percent to 15 percent of Bangladesh's population could be displaced in the next 60 years.(39) If the displacement occurred at a steady rate, initially about 200,000 to 300,000 people would be displaced annually. This figure is sizeable, yet it represents fewer than one-quarter of the new arrivals who enter Bangladesh's labor market every year. Moreover, the slow process gives coastal people time to adjust. Many will try to migrate within the country or to neighboring areas. A sea-level rise also can be expected to accelerate existing and well-established migration streams of Pacific Islanders to Australia and New Zealand(40) and of Egyptians to the Persian Gulf states. In addition to the migrant streams, two kinds of acute displacement situations are possible. The remaining communities will be exposed to more frequent and destructive floods and tropical storms. The process is already underway, killing and displacing large numbers of people.(41) After the disaster, migrants will be able to return to their home areas, even if their homes are gone. Others literally have lost their home areas, as shifting sandbanks have been submerged and the waters have carried away embankments and vegetation cover. Both kinds of displacement demonstrate the involuntarism and vulnerability typical of a refugee situation. Desertification and Drought Desertification is typically a cumulative process, stemming from overgrazing, deforestation or overuse of common land. The impact is gradual, manifesting itself in declining productivity, diminishing pasture areas and worsening droughts that gradually deplete human populations and livestock reserves. Studies of responses to desertification show that households resort to a range of coping strategies, each tailored to the situation, including migration to new grazing land or towns.(42) Peasants cultivate other crops and nomads shift to new grazing land, and both send family members to look for work as ordinary migrants. As land conditions worsen, herds are killed, seeds are consumed and the land is abandoned. Those who remain migrate to relief camps or urban squatter quarters in a refugee-like situation. Thus, pastoralist migrations in the Sahel developed gradually as the effects of drought and desertification took hold in the late 1960s, but they became a massive flow as catastrophic famine developed in the early 1970s. This analysis suggests that common forms of environmental degradation may cause both deliberate migration and acute displacement. Only the latter populations can be said to be in a refugee-like situation in that their departure includes some sociological characteristics of refugee movements: involuntary flight and vulnerability. They do not, however, necessarily meet another essential element of the refugee

condition: the need for protection from the state. Legally and historically, this has been central to the development of the refugee concept.(43) The basis for a refugee's claim to assistance from other states is grounded precisely in the notion that he or she cannot obtain the requisite minimal protection of life in the home country. Since the Western concept of the refugee originated in the 16th century, and especially since the 17th century, protection has been understood not as an entitlement to goods, however basic (such as food and shelter), but rather as the absence of fundamental wrongdoing (persecution, for example). Persecution implies that the state itself directs violence at an individual or group, or that the state deliberately permits or encourages other agents to engage in such violence. As recognized by international law and specified in the 1951 U.N. Convention's clause on non-refoulement, individuals have a right not to be subjected to this kind of violence. This right constitutes the basis for a refugee's claim to asylum. A broader basis for protection and assistance was incorporated in the mandate of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, enabling the agency to aid people displaced across borders by wars or other breakdowns of civil order -- violence that, in effect, was caused by the absence of established state authority. To avoid confusion, therefore, it makes sense to avoid using the term "environmental refugee" when the central issue is not protection from the state (or its agents, or the violence caused by its anarchic absence). The term "displaced person" is more appropriate.(44) Two further distinctions are useful. In cases of displacement by processes such as deforestation and desertification, or by deliberate policies such as dam-building, protection in the conventional sense is not the issue. These are cases of "simple displacement." In other situations, environmental degradation may occur in combination with internal or international wars, as the two commonly feed on each other. The compounded effects of violence and loss of means of survival may compel large numbers to flee -- often across state borders. In addition, a destroyed or heavily damaged habitat may render return difficult or impossible. In keeping with the emerging U.N. terminology, this can be called "complex displacement."(45) In such cases, the displaced populations share some characteristics with refugees as recognized by international law and contemporary practice. Clearly, protection is an issue, but because of imminent violence rather than environmental degradation. The population movement itself reflects different and potentially more devastating causes of displacement than envisaged in classical refugee law and practice. Complex displacements of this kind typically result from protracted warfare in poor societies located in fragile environments, such as semiarid regions, and may involve millions of people. The massive and complicated population flows in the Horn of Africa illustrate both the dynamic and the enormity of the challenge of developing an adequate response.(46) STRATEGIES OF RESPONSE This section will deal only with strategies of response to displaced people who find themselves in refugee-like conditions. The "environmental migrants" -- people who have migrated partly because of environmental degradation -- have been excluded. There is already literature dealing with policy responses to migration; insofar as environmental degradation is a factor, strategies of response focus on concepts of sustainable development, as variously defined. Migration, moreover, is not necessarily a problem to be avoided. Both for the individual and the communities concerned, migration is often a solution. The concept of displacement, on the other hand, has negative connotations of involuntary flight and vulnerability, which result in great hardship for displaced persons as well as the receiving community. Some scholars go further, arguing that since "environmental refugees" fall

between the cracks of the international relief system, special mechanism should be established to assist them.(47) To address the question of whether special mechanisms are appropriate, it is useful to consider which actors typically have primary responsibility in emergencies of this kind. Since responsibility often varies according to policy level, we can follow customary usage in refugee studies and delineate three levels: causes (root and proximate), symptoms (protection and relief), and durable solutions (repatriation, local integration and resettlement). Simple Displacement With simple displacement brought on by such causes as flood and drought, where political violence is not an issue, strategies of response are typically channeled through, or in cooperation with, the state concerned. This might well include efforts to modify state behavior, especially when the causes of displacement are related to state policies. Yet, the government authorities where the disaster originated must play a key role, whether the displacement occurred within their domain or across an international border. This is generally acknowledged and has become standard practice. In the aftermath of a disaster, relief and reintegration is usually undertaken jointly by the state government, in cooperation with national and international organizations, and by foreign governments. No major calls for reform of this process have been made. The only change likely in the near future is that the new Department of Humanitarian Affairs in the U.N. Secretariat will attempt to coordinate U.N. assistance. The causes of displacement -- while ultimately related to global economic and environmental structures -- can be dealt with more directly through national development policies. Because of the expense involved, as well as the international nature of the ultimate cause of the problem, a good case can be made for extending international assistance to such national development policies. For instance, even a relatively small rise in sea level will permanently displace many people in Bangladesh. To find alternate economic opportunities for the displaced, or to construct embankments to mitigate the damage, will be quite costly.(48) External assistance is clearly relevant, as the Bangladesh government recognized by requesting foreign aid for its proposed multimillion dollar Flood Action Plan. Also, simple international displacements can be addressed through, or in cooperation with, the states most directly concerned. When large numbers of people cross a border in-response to drought, for instance, relief assistance typically is channeled to the affected state through international intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. Over the last two decades, a substantial international relief network has developed that includes rosters of experts and procedures for operation and coordination. When displacement is covert and steady, as with illegal migration, policy strategies typically shift from relief to control and preemption. Several countries experience illegal migration and -- to the extent that they recognize and deal with it -- use measures such as border control and expulsion to relieve symptoms and use long-term economic development policies to attack causes. This seems an appropriate course of action. Simple displacements that reflect environmental stress and degradation must be addressed within the framework of development policy and relief assistance. To create special categories and programs for "environmental refugees" of this kind would distort central definitions and strain the desperately scarce resources of the international refugee regime. That the current U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees neither endorses such a category nor takes "environmental refugees" under her protection reflects such concern. Complex Displacement

For persons who cross borders because of the combined effects of war and environmental degradation, such as in the Horn of Africa, immediate relief cannot be channeled ipso facto through the state of origin. Special mechanisms are necessary but already exist. As a rule, this kind of displacement is covered by the existing UNHCR mandate for assisting refugees. The mandate also covers minorities who are expelled across international borders because of ethnic conflict combined with intense resource competition (as in the Senegal River Basin in 1989 and 1990). Precisely because these people cannot turn to their own government for basic protection or assistance, other states have at least a moral obligation -- and UNHCR a legal obligation -- to provide such protection and relief. The provision of protection and relief is justified by the violence that compelled people to flee. The fact that environmental degradation is an additional cause of displacement is in this context a less significant evil that carries no additional legal right to protection. The environmental factor is, however, important to consider when seeking durable solutions. Repatriation plans must include appropriate environmental restoration. Of course, degradation may be so profound that rehabilitation is impossible. But the phenomenon of irreversible refugee flows is certainly not unique to environmentally induced movements, as some of the environmental literature tends to imply. In cases of politically induced, irreversible flows -- such as that caused by the Russian revolution and the contemporary Vietnamese exodus -- resettlement is a recognized and wellestablished solution. Complex displacement within states raises special challenges that are increasingly recognized as such. When displacement occurs in combination with internal war or general breakdown of civil order, relief rarely can be channeled through existing authorities. Yet no U.N. agency has a mandate to assist displaced persons within the jurisdiction of a member-state without the consent of the government concerned. To the extent that the U.N. Charter permits humanitarian intervention contrary to the explicitly recognized principle of sovereignty, such action can only be authorized by the Security Council when it determines international peace and security are threatened.(49) The U.N. General Assembly moved only cautiously away from that position in December 1991 by adopting Resolution 46/182, which recognizes the need for unimpeded access in delivering humanitarian assistance to affected populations in internal conflict situations. Access to internally displaced persons is one of the most problematic aspects of international humanitarian assistance.(50) Access has to be either carefully negotiated with the contesting parties (as with Operation Lifeline in Sudan and in the former Yugoslavia) or imposed in the wake of a military defeat (as in northern Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War). But this constraint stems from the nature of sovereignty in the contemporary international system and is not related to the environmental dimension of the displacement. Hence, it is difficult to make a case for establishing special international mechanisms to assist internally displaced "environmental refugees" (as distinct from internally displaced persons in general). Only when it comes to the substance of policy -- as opposed to the organization of implementation -- is it clear that the environmental nature of displacement must be taken into account. This pertains to formulating policies for reintegration and return, as well as alleviating the pressures on the environment that helped bring about the displacement. Root Causes and Strategies of Response In developing strategies of response to refugee emergencies, increasing attention has been given to the search for solutions at the level of the causes. This shift, evident since the early 1980s, partly reflects the lack of resources and will to deal with refugees by providing generous asylum and resettlement provisions. Hence, instead of merely trying to relieve the symptoms of conflict, efforts have been made to avert population flows by

addressing the root causes. A similar perspective is appropriate for environmentally related displacements. It is by now clear that both micro- and macro-level policies can modify causes of environmental degradation and hence the kind of simple displacements discussed above. A huge body of literature has developed in this area, prompted in part by the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), which popularized the concept of sustainable development. Although this is not the place to summarize the literature, an illustration of the range of relevant policy strategies is useful. A recent empirical report by the Asian Development Bank identified some principal macro-level strategies for translating the recommendations of the Brundtland Commission into practice. Adopting the Commission's broad definition of sustainability, the report emphasized policies designed to bring economic development and environmental protection programs into a harmony that would enhance "both current and future potential to meet human needs."(51) Substantive policy recommendations included instituting production and accounting procedures that express the full value of environmental resources (for example, taxes that reflect full social costs of resource use, and devising "green" national accounting procedures); poverty alleviation programs (since poverty "pollutes" by placing clean but costly production processes beyond reach and by necessitating unsustainable use of natural resources); and trade and industrial policies that take the environmental impact into account. On the level of metapolicy, the report recommended strengthening the role of environmental expertise in the decisionmaking process. A wide range of micro-level policies are also relevant and are often adopted to stem environmental degradation associated with population outflows: Floods can be controlled by building embankments and improving drainage (as in Bangladesh); soil erosion can be controlled through terracing, closing off areas for regeneration and planting trees (as in the northern highlands of Ethiopia); entire ecological systems can be regenerated (as in the Loess plateau of China); and drought relief can be attained through work-for-food programs (as in Botswana).(52) None of these strategies is simple. Grandiose plans for flood control in Bangladesh, for instance, have been criticized severely for displacing people from their properties or common resources, to some extent bringing about precisely the outcome the plan was designed to prevent.(53) Also, taxing the use of natural resources in accordance with estimated social costs requires a political will that often is lacking. The point is, however, that a range of relevant strategies does exist and can be integrated with policies that address the displacement of people. In refugee studies, the notion of "comprehensive refugee policy" is well-established. The concept implies that strategies to prevent and resolve conflict must be integrated with asylum and refugee policy. A similar argument for a comprehensive policy can be made for environmentally related displacement. Conceptually, a first step in this direction would be to adjust the notion of sustainable development: However defined, sustainable development must not include the compulsory displacement of people. To the extent that refugees represent negative externalities of conflict for surrounding countries, the latter have a self-interest in addressing the underlying causes of displacement. Indeed, this incentive may outweigh their sense of legal and ethical obligations to assist the victims of displacement, should it occur. (1.) This article is partly based on a monograph prepared in 1993 for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences entitled "Pressure Points: Environmental Degradation, Migration and Conflict." (2.) Thomas F. Homer-Dixon, "On the Threshold: Environmental Changes as Causes of

Acute Conflict," International Security, 16, no. 2 (Fall 1991) p. 77. (3.) For this viewpoint see Anders Ornas Hjort and M.A. Mohamed Salih, eds., Ecology and Politics (Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1989) and Olivia Bennett, ed., Greenwar: Environment and Conflict (London: The Panos Institute, 1991). (4.) Commenting on the narrow margins of survival in the poorest parts of the developing world, Ted Gurr writes: "When natural or man-made disasters disrupt the delicate balance between agricultural productivity and survival needs, the results are famine, disease and death." (Ted Robert Gurr, "On the Political Consequences of Scarcity and Economic Decline," International Studies Quarterly, 29 [March 1985] p. 56.) (5.) See Kimberly A. Hamilton and Kate Holder, "International Migration and Foreign Policy: A Survey of the Literature," Washington Quarterly, 14, no. 2 (Spring 1991) pp. 195-211. For instance, the World Bank's 1992 World Development Report (Washington, DC) focuses on the environment and discusses the impact of migration on the environment, but not vice versa. Richard Black, Refugees and Environmental Change (London: King's College, 1993) also looks at the environmental consequences of refugee movements. (6.) For examples of minimalism, see Mary M. Kritz, "Climate Change and Migration Adaptations," Cornell University Working Paper Series (Ithaca, NY: 1990); National Academy of Sciences, Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming, Report of the Adaptation Panel prepublication manuscript (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1991); and Richard W. Bilsborrow, "Rural Poverty, Migration and the Environment in Developing Countries: Three Case Studies," background paper prepared for the World Development Report (Chapel Hill, NC: 1991). (7.) For instance, in The Migration of Labor (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), Oded Stark claims to model anew the processes of labor migration but makes no reference to environmental variables. See also Michael Todaro, "A Model of Labor Migration and Urban Unemployment in Less-Developed Countries," American Economic Review, 59, no. 1 (1969). (8.) See Alejandro Portes and John Walton, Labor, Class and the International System (New York: Academic Press, 1981) and Stephen Adler, International Migration and Dependence (Westmead, UK: Saxon House, 1977). (9.) Graeme Hugo, "Population Movements in Indonesia," paper delivered at the International Conference on Migration (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 1991) p. 28. (10) Bilsborrow, 1991. (11) Kritz, 1990. (12.) See footnote 6. (13.) For examples, see Essam El-Hinnawi, Environmental Refugees (New York:United Nations development Program, 1985);Jodi Jacobson, Environmental Refugees: Yardstick of Habitability, Worldwatch Paper no. 86, 1988; Jessica Tuchman Mathews, "Redefining Security," Foreign Affairs, 68, no. 2 (Spring 1989) pp. 162-77; and Norman Myers, "Environment and Security," Foreign Policy, 74 (Spring 1989) pp. 2341. (14.) Cited in Sara Hoagland and Susan Conbere,Environmental Stress and National Security (College Park, MD): Center for Global Change, 1991) p. 31. (15.) El-Hinnawi, p. 4. (16.) Jacobson, p. 6. (17.) Anthony V. Catanese, Haiti's Refugees: Political, Economic, Environmental, Natural Heritage Institute/Universities Field Staff International Report, no. 17 (1990 to 1991). (18.) Thomas Sanders, Northeast Brazilian Environmental Refugees: Why They Leave, Field Staff Reports, no. 20 (1990 to 1991). (19.) See Nancy Birdsall, "Population and Global Warming: Another Look," U.N. Expert Group Meeting (New York. 20-24 January, 1992). (20.) Susan Tamondong-Helin and William Helin, Migration and the Environment: Interrelationships in Sub-Saharan Africa, The Natural Heritage Institute/Universities Field Staff International, no. 2 (1990 to 1991) p. 4. (21.) GLASOD, World Map of the Status of Human-Induced Soil Degradation, Global Assessment of Soil Degradation, International Soil Reference and Information Center and United Nations Environment Program (Wageningen, The Netherlands, and New York: 1990). (22.) A Social and Economic Atlas of India (New Delhi: Oxford University

Press, 1987). (23.) World Resources Institute (1989). (24.) Bruntland Commission, Our Common Future, World Commission on Environment and Development (New York: Oxford University Press,1987). (25.) On this point, see E. F. Kunz, "The Refugee in Flight: Kinetic Models and Forms of Displacement," International Migration Review, 7, no. 2 (Summer 1973) pp. 125 -- 46; Barry N. Stein and Silvano M. Tomasi, eds., "Refugees Today," International migration Review, Special Edition 15 (Spring-Summer 1981); and Aristide Zolberg, Astri Suhrke and Sergio Aguayo, Escape From Violence: Refugees and Conflict in the Developing World (New York; Oxford University Press, 1989). (26.) Graeme Hugo, "Changing Famine Coping Strategies Under the Impact of Population Pressures and Urbanisation: The Case of Population Mobility," paper delivered at the workshop on Famine Research and Food Production Systems, Freiburg University (Freiburg, Germany: 10-14 November 1989). (27.) Firth cited in Amrita Rangasami, "Failure of Exchange Entitlements Theory of Famine," Economic and Political Weekly, 20, no. 42 (19 October 1985) p. 1797. (28.) I am indebted to Amrita Rangasami of New Delhi for this information. (29.) Discussion with Rangasami, May 1991. (30.) Famine is not necessarily a result of environmental degradation. As Amartya Sen has unambiguously established, famine is above all a social product that may or may not have been brought on by the scarcity of food. (31.) As for the "hidden" characteristics of the process -- damage to the environment, such as the ozone hole, that long remains invisible but suddenly and dramatically manifests itself -- Richard A. Carpenter argues: "It is my thesis that the ability of science is inadequate to accurately detect, much less predict, the transition from intensive but sustainable use to unacceptable degradation." (Asian Development Bank, Economic Policies for Sustainable Development [Manila: Asian Development Bank, 1990] p. 16.) (32.) Norman Myers, "Population/Environment Linkages: Discontinuities Ahead?" U.N. Expert Group meeting (New York: 20-24 January 1992). (33.) Myers, p. 9. (34.) ibid. (35.) I am indebted to Ashok Gulati of New Delhi for discussion of this point. (36.) This process is exemplified in the case of Thailand's rural-to-urban migration. Phillip Hurst, Rainforest Politics (London: Zed Books, 1990). (37.) Walter Fernandes et al., Forests, Environment and Tribal Economy (New Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1988). (38.) A. J. Fairclough, "Global Environment and Natural Resource Problems -- Their Economic, Political and Security Implications," Washington Quarterly, 14, no. 1 (Winter 1991) p. 88. (39.) Jacobson, p. 34. (40.) John Connell, "Paradise Left? Pacific Island Voyagers in the Modern World," in James T. Fawcett and Benjamin V. Carino, eds., Pacific Bridges: The New Immigration From Asia and the Pacific Islands (New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1987) p. 375404. (41.) Muinul Islam, "Ecological Catastrophes and Refugees in Bangladesh," paper delivered at the Conference on Worldwide Refugee Movements, The New School for Social Research (New York: 8-9 November 1991). (42.) See M. Watts, Silent Violence: Food, Famine and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) and Richard E. Bilsborrow and Pamela D. DeLargy, Land Use, Migration, and Natural Resource Deterioration: The Experience of Guatemala and the Sudan (Chapel Hill, NC: Carolina Population Center, 1991). (43.) Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, The Refugee in International Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983); A. Grahl Madsen, "The European Tradition of Asylum and the Development of Refugee Law," Journal of Peace Research,. 3 (1966) pp. 278-89; Andrew E. Shacknove, "Who Is a Refugee?" Ethics, 95 (January 1985) pp. 274-84. (44.) The term is here used in a social scientific sense, not as an indication of legal status. In the latter context, the term ~displaced persons' has come to mean individuals displaced within a state, as distinct from across an international border. (45.) In the United Nations, a new disaster terminology is emerging. By the early 1990s, partly occasioned by the establishment of the U.N. Department of Humanitarian

Affairs in 1991, the United Nations categorized disasters as either natural disasters or "complex humanitarian emergencies." (See "Strengthening of the Coordination of Humanitarian Emergency Assistance of the United Nations," report of the SecretaryGeneral, A/47/595, 30 October 1992). The weakness of the term "natural disaster" is that many are, in fact, man-made (for example, floods induced by deforestation resulting from over-cutting of trees). The term "complex humanitarian disaster" covers what I prefer to call "complex displacement" -- displacement resulting from a combination of political violence and other factors. (46.) In the Sudan, civil war since 1983 combined with severe drought had, by 1990, displaced large numbers of people within the country and almost 400,000 people across the border to Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, widespread violence was endemic from the early 1960s to the beginning of the 1990s. Apart from the Eritrean secessionist war, repression and rebellion in the remaining parts of Ethiopia developed after the Marxists came to power in 1974. There was also a war with neighboring Somalia (1978 to 1980) and drought and famine (1981, and 1984 to 1986). Approximately 2.5 million people fled to neighboring countries, mainly Sudan, but also Djibouti and Kenya. About one million were internally displaced. (Karen Jacobsen with Steven Wilkinson, "Refugee Movements as Security Threats in Sub-Saharan Africa," in Myron Weiner, ed., International Migration and Security [Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993] pp. 201-227. On problems of reconstruction, see Anthony Lake, After the Wars [Washington, DC: Overseas Development Council, 19901.) (47.) An early articulation of this argument was made at a conference organized by the International Organization of Migration (Geneva) and the Refugee Policy Group (Washington, DC) in January 1992. See "Migration and the Environment," briefing paper prepared by the Refugee Policy Group for the Conference on Migration and the Environment (Nyon, Switzerland: 19-22 January 1992). UNHCR has rejected this argument, as the high commissioner, Sadako Ogata, made clear at a conference on environmental degradation and population displacement organized by the Swiss Institute for Peace Research in Lenzburg, Switzerland, October 1992. (48.) See Fahmida Akter, "Cost and Benefit of Protection from Sea Level Rise: The Case of Bangladesh," (Dhaka: Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, n.d.). (49.) U.N. Charter, Chapter VII. (50.) See U.S. House Select Committee on Hunger, Humanitarian Intervention: A Review of Theory and Practice, 102nd Cong., 2nd sess., 25 September 1992; and the ongoing research of the Humanitarianism and War project of the Thomas J. Watson Institute, Brown University (Providence, RI) and the Refugee Policy Group. (51.) Asian Development Bank, Economic Policies for Sustainable Development (Manila: Asian Development Bank, 1990) p. 2. (52.) See World Development Report (Washington, DC: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 1990); Jeremy J. Warford and Zeinab Partow, eds., The World Bank and the Environment: First Annual Report (Washington, DC: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 1990); and Michael Stahl, Constraints to Environmental Rehabilitation through People's Participation in the Northern Ethiopian Highlands, no. 13 (Geneva: U.N. Research Institute for Social Development, no. 13, 1990). (53.) Shapan Adnan, Floods, People and the Environment (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Research and Advisory Services, 1991). -1Questia Media America, Inc. www.questia.com Publication Information: Article Title: Environmental Degradation and

Population Flows. Contributors: Astri Suhrke - author. Journal Title: Journal of International Affairs. Volume: 47. Issue: 2. Publication Year: 1994. Page Number: 473-496. COPYRIGHT 1994 Columbia University School of International Public Affairs; COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.

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