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UNEP releases new assessment report: Environmental impact of refugees in Guinea

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NAIROBI, 15 March, 2000 - According to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), serious environmental impacts have resulted in southern Guinea because of the large influx of 600,000 refugees fleeing into the area from recent conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The UNEP report, "Environmental Impact of Refugees in Guinea," was made in cooperation with the UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the request of the Government of Guinea. The report is based upon a desk-study followed by a joint field mission to the Guinea area and was forwarded to the UN Secretary-General last Friday.

The report says that in the rural areas, where the refugee camps are situated, use of the surrounding natural resources is highly unsustainable. And that the ongoing demand for food crops has led to the transformation of natural land and forest areas in to arable lands and that this has had severe impacts on biodiversity and water systems.

"In addition to the refugee camps, many displaced persons have sought refuge in urban centres, where populations have increased sharply with resulting waste removal and water problems," said Klaus Toepfer UNEP Executive Director. "The authorities have simply not been able to cope with such a massive increase of population and in a number of areas sanitation management systems have completely collapsed."

In the report, the UNEP-led team acknowledges the efforts of the people of Guinea, the Government and the international organizations already operating in affected areas, but says more international support and assistance is urgently required. It recommends that the United Nations develop an action plan to incorporate sustainable use and management of the natural resources in the rural areas and also develop a programme to improve the capacities for urban environmental management.

"Whilst a number of UN Agencies and international bodies have already successfully carried out a number of emergency environmental initiatives, an enhanced and more coordinated approach is now required to avoid the proliferation of ineffective projects," said Toepfer. "The proposed action plan could be led by the UN presence on the ground in Guinea and should feed into the proposed donor's conference on Guinea, which is scheduled to be held later this year."

"Such an approach," continued Toepfer, "would help prioritize environmental management requirements and package them as self-contained projects for donor support. This would ensure an overarching and effective coordinated approach to the environmental assistance provided to the Guinea Government and the refugees."

The full report, "Environmental Impact of Refugees in Guinea", and other information including maps, is available on the web at http://www.grid.unep.ch/guinea

For more information please contact: Tore J. Brevik, UNEP Spokesman on tel: +254-2-623292, or Robert Bisset, Office of the Spokesman/UNEP Media Unit, on tel: +254-2-623084, fax: 623692, email: robert.bisset@unep.org

UNEP News Release 00/28

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