Natural environment under threat from resettlement programmes

The UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (EUE) has warned that resettlement programmes can devastate natural environments and threaten indigenous groups. It said "colossal deforestation" and widespread environmental damage almost always went hand in hand with such programmes.

The Ethiopian government is currently implementing voluntary resettlement programmes in drought-hit parts of at least two regions - Oromiya and Amhara - as part of its five-year plan, but the move comes at a time when some 11 million people in the country are facing starvation.

Officials from Oromiya food security unit said they always tried to ensure that the resettlement programmes were environmentally friendly and voluntary, but the EUE warned that the programmes were fraught with pitfalls, and in certain parts of the country, such as Gumuz in the west, had proved counterproductive.

"Resettlement represents a threat to the indigenous people, because it has alienated resources vital to their livelihood," EUE experts Dechassa Lemessa and Francois Piguet asserted. "Virtually in all areas [where] resettlement programmes are conducted, colossal deforestation and other forms of environmental destruction are a conspicuous phenomenon."

Their comments came at a three-day meeting on resettlement and development, in the capital, Addis Ababa, where experts spoke about both the dangers and advantages of resettlement programmes. They pointed out that attempts throughout history to resettle people had often ended in failure.

"The literature on resettlement worldwide reveals that poorly conceived, inadequately planned, insufficiently financed and forcibly executed population relocations are often disruptive," an academic, Gebre Yintiso, said. "In Ethiopia, failure stories are disturbingly abundant, while the record on positive resettlement experiences remains unimpressive."

The EUE and the Ethiopian Society of Sociologists, Social Workers and Anthropologists jointly hosted the meeting, which ended on Thursday.