Environmental Impact of Refugee Camps: Resource Usage and Management

Over ten million people are trapped in protracted refugee situations in over thirty countries. While refugee camps are often constructed to deal with immediate crises of assumed short-term duration, the average length of displacement is now close to twenty years. Environmental degradation including deforestation, soil erosion and air pollution often result, with negative impacts on camp residents, their hosts, and broader ecosystem services. Further complicating matters, many protracted refugee situations are located in arid and semi-arid climates. These impacts increase the risk of wet season flooding and decrease dry season water availability, further straining already stressed water supplies. This project offers comparative evidence-based assessments of the environmental impacts from two arid-region, long-term refugee camps - Aysaita Camp in the Afar region of Ethiopia and Ali Addeh Camp in Djibouti - and offers actionable lessons to reduce impacts on and from the environment for camp and host communities alike.

Based on extensive field work, the project team conducted interviews with refugees and stakeholders in 4 languages, and collected survey data from over 700 households about actual and perceived natural resource usage in the camps and local host communities; environmental impacts of these usage patterns; and opportunities for interventions to improve livelihood and resource outcomes.  In addition, using remote sensing and groundtruthing, the team assembled a GIS database of the human and physical environment in the five zones of the Afar region in Ethiopia and the Republic of Djibouti. The team is using these data to assess environmental change over time and understand household perceptions of change and potential solutions to environmental problems. In July 2016, the team presented its preliminary findings at the 16th conference for the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration in Poznan, Poland. 

This project is being funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration. 

For further information, contact: Nili Yossinger