Environmental Refugees: A Stark Reminder

  • Arthur H. Westing
Part of the SpringerBriefs on Pioneers in Science and Practice book series (BRIEFSPIONEER, volume 13)


It is noted that the number of more or less permanently displaced persons throughout the world (now of the order of 1 % of the total human population) continues to increase at a rate of approximately 3 million per year; the situation in Africa is especially grave, with the number of displaced persons there (now of the order of 3 % of the African population), continuing to increase at a rate of approximately 1.5 million per year. Human displacement—which can be seen to originate largely in rural areas—results primarily from one or more of three factors, namely escape from persecution, escape from military activities, or escape from inadequate means of subsistence. A number of examples from Africa are provided of the social and political consequences of human displacement, with emphasis on conflict situations at the sites of relocation. It is further noted that the numbers of displaced persons continue to grow relentlessly despite there being no discernible rise in persecution or in military activities, and despite the long-sustained ameliorative efforts and financial assistance by intergovernmental agencies and others. It is accordingly suggested that the major cause of the continuing increase in the numbers of displaced persons is an ever-growing imbalance between population numbers and the human carrying capacity of the land. Population increases lead to smaller per caput natural resource bases, a predicament exacerbated by over-use—and thus degradation—of the land and its natural resources. In the arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, over-use of the land most often takes the form of overgrazing, leading to land degradation that is severe enough to be referred to as desertification. It is concluded that to achieve sustainable utilization of the land and its natural resources will necessitate the integrated attainment of environmental security and societal security—the latter inter alia requiring participatory governance, non-violent means of conflict resolution, and especially population controls.


Armed Conflict Military Activity Environmental Security Displace Person Habitual Residence 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. ACDA 1991. World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1990. 21st edn. Washington: US Arms Control & Disarmament Agency, 148 pp.Google Scholar
  2. Amer, R. et al. 1993. Major armed conflicts. SIPRI Yearbook (Oxford) 1993:81–130Google Scholar
  3. Falkenmark, M. 1989. Massive water scarcity now threatening Africa: why isn't it being addressed? Ambio (Stockholm) 18:112–118.Google Scholar
  4. FAO. 1993. Key Aspects of Strategies for the Sustainable Development of Drylands. Rome: Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN, 60 pp.Google Scholar
  5. Fox, R. 1993. Inner Sea: the Mediterranean and its People. rev. edn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 577 pp.Google Scholar
  6. Gastil, R.D. 1982. Comparative survey of freedom: the tenth year. Freedom at Issue [now Freedom Review] (New York) 1982(64):3–14.Google Scholar
  7. Golini, A. et al. 1991. South-north migration with special reference to Europe. International Migration (Geneva) 29:253–279.Google Scholar
  8. Goose, S.D. 1987. Armed conflicts in 1986, and the Iraq–Iran War. SIPRI Yearbook (Oxford) 1987:297–320.Google Scholar
  9. Hamilton, K.A. & Holder, K. 1991. International migration and foreign policy: a survey of the literature. Washington Quarterly (Cambridge, MA) 14(2):195–211.Google Scholar
  10. IBRD. 1992. World Development Report 1992: Development and the Environment. 15th edn. Washington: International Bank for Reconstruction & Development (World Bank), 308 pp.Google Scholar
  11. IBRD. 1993. World Development Report 1993: Investing in Health. 16th edn. Washington: International Bank for Reconstruction & Development (World Bank), 329 pp.Google Scholar
  12. INCD. 1993. Elaboration of an International Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa: Negotiating Text of the Convention. New York: UN General Assembly, Document No. A/AC. 241/15, 19 November 1993, 27 pp.Google Scholar
  13. Jacobsen, K. 1994. Impact of Refugees on the Environment: a Review of the Evidence. Washington: Refugee Policy Group, 49 pp.Google Scholar
  14. Lindgren, K. et al. 1989. Major armed conflicts in 1988. SIPRI Yearbook (Oxford) 1989:339–355.Google Scholar
  15. Loescher, G. 1992. Refugee Movements and International Security. London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, Adelphi Paper No. 268, 83 pp.Google Scholar
  16. McColm, R.B. (ed.). 1991. Freedom in the World: Political Rights and Civil Liberties 1990–1991. New York: Freedom House, 479 pp.Google Scholar
  17. McColm, R.B. 1992a. Comparative survey of freedom 1991–1992: between two worlds. In: McColm, R.B. (ed.). Freedom in the World: Political Rights & Civil Liberties 1991–1992. New York: Freedom House, 592 pp: pp 47–52.Google Scholar
  18. McColm, R.B. (ed.). 1992b. Freedom in the World: Political Rights & Civil Liberties 1991–1992. New York: Freedom House, 592 pp.Google Scholar
  19. McColm, R.B. (ed.). 1993. Freedom in the World: the Annual Survey of Political Rights & Civil Liberties 1992–1993. New York: Freedom House, 637 pp.Google Scholar
  20. Molvær, R.K. 1991. Environmentally induced conflicts?: a discussion based on studies from the Horn of Africa. Bulletin of Peace Proposals [now Security Dialogue] (Oslo) 22:175–188.Google Scholar
  21. Myers, N. 1987. Population, environment, and conflict. Environmental Conservation (Cambridge, UK) 14(1):15–22.Google Scholar
  22. Myers, N. 1993. How many migrants for Europe? People & the Planet (London) 2(3):28.Google Scholar
  23. Ruthström, C. 1990−1991. Refugees and European security. Swedish Institute of International Affairs Yearbook (Stockholm) 1990–1991:159−170.Google Scholar
  24. Salih, M.M.A. 1993. Environmental conflicts in African lands: cases from Sudan and Nigeria. In: Käkönen, J. (ed.). Perspectives on Environmental Conflict and International Relations. London: Pinter Publishers, 162 pp: pp 116–135.Google Scholar
  25. Salt, J. 1993. Migration and Population Change in Europe. Geneva: UN Institute for Disarmament Research, Research Paper No. 19, 81 pp.Google Scholar
  26. Sivard, R.L. 1993. World Military and Social Expenditures 1993. 15th edn. Washington: World Priorities, 56 pp.Google Scholar
  27. Suhrke, A. 1993. Pressure points: environmental degradation, migration and conflict. In: Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts & Sciences, International Security Studies Program, Occasional Paper Series No. 3, 67 pp: pp 3–43.Google Scholar
  28. Suliman, M. 1992. Civil War in Sudan: the Impact of Ecological Degradation. Zürich: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Center for Security Studies & Conflict Research -&- Swiss Peace Foundation, Environment & Conflicts Project, Occasional Paper No. 4, 34 pp.Google Scholar
  29. Tolba, M.K. 1991. Status of Desertification and Implementation of the United Nations Plan of Action to Combat Desertification. Nairobi: UN Environment Programme, Document No. UNEP/GCSS.III/3, 15 October 1991, xv + 88 pp + Add.1 (30 December 1991), 6 pp + Corr.1/Rev.1, 27 January 1992, 1 p.Google Scholar
  30. UN. 1993. Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development: Rio Declaration on Environment and Development: Statement of Forest Principles. New York: United Nations, Publication No. DPI/1344, April 1993, 294 pp.Google Scholar
  31. UNEP. 1993. Desertification: A. Implementation of the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification in 19911992; B. Financing and other Measures in Support of the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification; C. Implementation in the Sudano–Sahelian Region of the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification. Nairobi: UN Environment Programme, Governing Council Decision No. 17/19, 21 May 1993, 4 pp.Google Scholar
  32. UNEP & ISRIC. 1990. World Map of Status of Human-induced Soil Degradation. Nairobi: UN Environment Programme, variable scale (1:4,650,000 to 1:15,000,000), 3 sheets, each 93 x 136 cm + explanatory note, 25 pp.Google Scholar
  33. UNFPA. 1993. State of World Population 1993: the Individual and the World: Population, Migration and Development in the 1990s. New York: UN Population Fund, 54 pp.Google Scholar
  34. UNGA. 1992. Establishment of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Elaboration of an International Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa. New York: UN General Assembly, Resolution No. 47/188, 22 December 1992, 3 pp.Google Scholar
  35. UNHCR. 1993. State of the World's Refugees 1993: the Challenge of Protection. Geneva: UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 191 pp. [Also: New York: Penguin Books.]Google Scholar
  36. UNSO. 1992. Assessment of Desertification and Drought in the Sudano–Sahelian Region 1985–1991. New York: UN Sudano–Sahelian Office, 102 pp.Google Scholar
  37. Wallensteen, P. & Axell, K. 1993. Armed conflict at the end of the cold war, 1989–92. Journal of Peace Research (Oslo) 30:331–346.Google Scholar
  38. Westing, A.H. 1982. War as a human endeavour: the high-fatality wars of the twentieth century. Journal of Peace Research (Oslo) 19:261–270.Google Scholar
  39. Westing, A.H. 1989. Environmental component of comprehensive security. Bulletin of Peace Proposals [now Security Dialogue] (Oslo) 20:129–134.Google Scholar
  40. Westing, A.H. 1990. Our place in nature: reflections on the global carrying-capacity for humans. In: Polunin, N. & Burnett, J.H. (eds). Maintenance of the Biosphere. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 228 pp: pp 109–120.Google Scholar
  41. Westing, A.H. 1991. Environmental security and its relation to Ethiopia and Sudan. Ambio (Stockholm) 20:168–171.Google Scholar
  42. Westing, A.H. 1992. Environmental refugees: a growing category of displaced persons. Environmental Conservation (Cambridge, UK) 19(3):201–207.Google Scholar
  43. Widgren, J. 1989. Europe and international migration in the future: the necessity for merging migration, refugee, and development policies. In: Loescher, G. & Monahan, L. (eds.). Refugees and International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 430 pp: pp 49–61.Google Scholar
  44. Widgren, J. 1990. International migration and regional stability. International Affairs (Cambridge, UK) 66:749–766.Google Scholar
  45. Wilson, G.K. & Wallensteen, P. 1988. Major armed conflicts in 1987. SIPRI Yearbook (Oxford) 1988:285–298.Google Scholar
  46. WRI. 1992. World Resources 1992–93: a Report by the World Resources Institute. 5th edn. New York: Oxford University Press, 385 pp.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Security and EducationWesting Associates in EnvironmentPutneyUSA

Personalised recommendations