Key Issues

Roles and Responsibilities

The Camp Management Agency is responsible for ensuring that environmental considerations are taken into account during the whole camp life cycle. Although there may be a specifically designated agency appointed to provide guidance on environmental management, care and rehabilitation of the environment may often not be the top priority for stakeholders such as national authorities, humanitarian organisations or donors. In these circumstances, the Camp Management Agency will have a particularly strong advocacy role to play. Additionally, the Camp Management Agency should:

  • systematically include environmental concerns and issues in coordination with Camp Administration and other stakeholders at the camp level and the Camp Coordination Agency (Cluster/Sector Lead) at national/ regional level
  • ensure the making and implementation of an environmental action plan focuses on monitoring the camp’s impact on natural resources
  • advocate for environmentally friendly programmes and alternative technologies
  • ensure that local or traditional rules governing access to certain places or resources around the camp, such as sacred forest or hunting of wildlife species, are known and respected by all camp residents and service providers
  • encourage stakeholders to adopt specific environment-friendly activities in the camp such as responsible waste collection and disposal, water conservation and the systematic use of energy-efficient stoves. In time, other activities such as tree planting might be considered
  • intervene and prepare appropriate conflict resolution measures with representatives from local communities. In an environment where natural resources such as fuelwood and water are limited, there is often dispute between camp residents and host communities. Preventing or resolving conflicts that might arise over the use of natural resources require diplomacy and timely intervention by the Camp Management Agency
  • ensure training of all staff as well as community leaders or Environmental Committees so they are aware of the links between the environment, provision of shelter, water and sanitation, livelihoods and energy assistance, and protection of the camp population. Special attention is needed to identify individuals or groups at risk, especially women and children if they leave the camp to collect fuelwood
  • inform camp residents and the host community about the potential environmental impacts of a camp and its related infrastructure. This can be done by raising awareness and planning community-wide events where environment and conservation activities can be highlighted in a meaningful, practical and instructive manner.

Other Environmental Agencies

Working with national or international environmental agencies will differ from one country operation to another in terms of their experience and expertise to hand. Some countries may have a distinct environmental ministry while others may have a ministry or service dedicated to related subjects such as agriculture, water and/or forestry. When working with national authorities or specialist NGOs, the Camp Management Agency should:

  • engage as early as possible in camp establishment
  • assess and build on the national authority's capacity and experience in addressing the needs of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)
  • assess the capacity and experience of potential non-governmental organisations (NGO) partners and be prepared to provide training on environmental management.


Voice From the Field - Responsible Practice?

A Camp Management Agency operating with a mobile team and monitoring up to 50 small sites implemented a sanitation maintenance and upgrading project which involved the private contracting of a gully sucker, a truck with a pump, to clear out latrines. Time was invested in ensuring that waste was disposed of responsibly on remote and disused land with the landowner’s consent. Subsequently, as planned, the local municipality took charge, using government resources to clear out latrines. Their gully sucker was observed on a cliff top dropping sludge into the sea. National authorities were informed.


Environmental Staff

While it may not always be practical for the Camp Management Agency to have its own full-time environmental expert, it is important that this responsibility is delegated to at least one focal person and that s/he receives some training in environmental management. S/he should be familiar with recommended environmental key policies such as environmental guidelines and adapt best practices. The environmental focal point should also:

  • Support the establishment and running of an Environment Committee, ideally including representatives from both camp population and host community. Environmental Committees should have specific terms of reference, which include reporting lines, and might, once operational, draw up specific camp or village-based rules governing the use and management of natural resources.
  • Liaise with all stakeholders responsible for environmental management.
  • Ensure that other projects and sectors address environmental issues. Focal points need to proactively advocate for environmental protection and identification of appropriate measures.


Projects that address specific environmental activities, such as tree planting, environmental awareness raising, promotion of fuel-efficient stoves and/or agricultural extension, will require their own monitoring processes.

Periodic, but regular, attention will also need to be given to activities addressing the environmental consequences of water extraction, waste disposal, vector control or other services. Household visits and direct observation are important to reveal whether families are correctly using and maintaining facilities such as cooking stoves. While monitoring activities and environmental impacts, a Camp Management Agency needs to be particularly conscious of the risk that:

  • camp plans may contradict or be inconsistent with national policies making the likelihood of achieving effective environmental management more difficult
  • negative impacts on the environment, although they are severe, may not lead to priority interventions and/or the response capacities amongst humanitarian and environment organisations may not be sufficient.


Mainstreaming Environmental Protection

Mainstreaming environmental protection into sector- specific interventions in the camp requires dedicated financial and human resources. Participatory approaches should be encouraged to the greatest extent possible.


Community Mobilisation

The Camp Management Agency should make sure that camp residents have access to information about environmental management. In addition to information boards and messages, the Camp Management Agency can work through the camp governance structure already in place and involve selected camp leaders, committees and block representatives. Messages and guidelines on environmental issues should be simple and easy to understand. Visual effects or drama can be effective tools for presenting environmental information. Different activities can be undertaken to raise and maintain environmental awareness within the camp. These may include:

  • organising special occasions, such as the annual celebration of World Environment Day on 5 June including campwide community mobilisation activities when designing a camp's Environmental Action Plan
  • promoting camp site clean-up or tree-planting campaigns
  • sharing special events with local communities to help maintain good relations
  • providing training and support to school environmental clubs to promote environmental awareness

☞ For information on community mobilisation, see Chapter 3, Community Participation.



A biomass assessment prior to the selection of a camp site can provide information about what kinds of natural resources might be available for immediate shelter construction. Further consideration needs to be given to determining what the removal of such resources might be in the short and long-term and what this might mean for local communities. Ideally, the implementing partners selected by the Camp Coordination (Cluster/Sector Lead Agency) undertake this. Where natural resources, like wooden poles, grasses and leaves, are used to construct family shelters, these materials are commonly gathered near the camp site. When shelters are built with local materials, the average quantity of wood required for basic shelters is typically 80 metres of straight poles with an average diameter of 5 cm. Termite damage may result in the need for regular replacement. Wood required for shelter must be compared with the timber requirements for cooking. A family will commonly burn more wood as firewood in two months than they will use to build their shelter. This average quantity varies according to location. Two hundred kilograms of wood is probably a minimum for a basic structure, which may require regular replacement due to insect damage, and a family will burn in excess of 100 kg. per month.

Prior to a distribution of shelter materials, such as plastic sheeting, the Camp Management Agency should consider that their distribution may lead to the environmental degradation of the local camp environment such as the felling of timber to build support structures. Consequently, organisations may choose to distribute structural as well as covering materials. Grasses and foliage used for roof cover often have a specific value and importance for host communities, which need to be considered. Harvesting when plants are in seed, for example, will reduce future harvests, while harvesting at other seasons may make them more susceptible to insect attack, reducing the material’s lifetime.

Depending on the context, and broader environmental and climatic conditions, timber may also rot or be attacked by insects. For it to last any length of time, timber or bamboo should be cured (dried) and, ideally, treated.

Sun-dried mud-bricks used for walls or vaulted ceilings offer a possible alternative to timber in some situations, especially where concrete or steel may be culturally unfamiliar. Brickbuilt houses are generally more durable, offer better living conditions and can reduce the amount of wood typically needed for construction by around 80 per cent. However, significant amounts of water are required to establish the correct mixture. If mud brick construction is encouraged, prior negotiation needs to take place and consent obtained from land owners and the authorities.


Voice From the Field – Issues Around Building with Mud Bricks

Pits excavated for mud will fill with water and can become a breeding pond for malaria-transmitting mosquitoes if not filled. Back-filling prevents pits from being a physical hazard to children and animals. Excavated pits used for brick-making, if close to houses, might be converted into compost pits. In moist climates open pits may provide breeding sites for disease carrying vectors such as mosquitoes. The Camp Management Agency should ensure there is back-filling of brick making sites, rationalise water collection and make sure that pits are either filled in or fenced. Where brick-making is occurring, the Camp Management Agency should ensure that the water being used for the mixture is not being sourced from treated supplies intended for personal use and consumption. Neither should it allow trees to be cut for drying or curing bricks in energy inefficient brisk kilns.


If shelter materials are not provided, there may be a need to organise the cutting of selected trees from designated and controlled harvesting sites. This process requires some degree of forest management knowledge as well as an appreciation of the local climate and vegetation. When specific trees are identified and marked for cutting by the displaced population it must be made clear that only designated trees should be cut.

When materials are being brought in from outside the site, they should be sourced from locations where they have been harvested in an environmentally sustainable manner. A rapid environmental assessment should be conducted at collection sites before any trees are cut. Ownership of these resources needs to be clarified from the outset.

☞ For more information on shelter-related issues, see Chapter 15, Shelter.


Water and Sanitation

The extensive use of water to provide basic assistance to camp residents may have an important environmental impact. This requires a continuous monitoring from water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) service providers with the support of, and in coordination with, the Camp Management Agency.


Water should be safe for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene. In order to promote sound environmental management it is essential the Camp Management Agency ensures that existing water sources such as springs are protected from:

  • livestock
  • latrines, which should ideally be placed downstream at a distance of 30 metres from a water source
  • clothes washing and bathing areas
  • burial grounds 
  • waste disposal sites.


Sphere Standards

The Sphere Project Handbook 2011, stipulates that soak pits, trench latrines and/or toilets should be at least 30 metres from water sources and the bottom of the pits should be at least 1.5m above the groundwater table. These distances need to be increased for fissured rocks and limestone, or decreased for fine soils.


☞ For more information on standards on latrine placement and hygiene promotion, see Chapter 14, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.


Avoid Water Contamination

Health education, environmental education and hygiene promotion activities should include information on how to avoid contamination of water sources.



Particularly where camps are established in hilly regions, the removal of vegetation cover can lead to severe erosion and gulleys. This process is often irreversible. There are examples where a protracted camp presence has obliged people from nearby host communities to move because agriculture was no longer possible on their land due to camp-stimulated erosion.

The Camp Management Agency should actively advocate for the prevention of excessive removal of vegetation cover, both in and around a camp, in order to ensure that rainwater is rapidly absorbed into the ground and that the site is more resilient for future erosion. This can lead to replenishment of underground aquifers and, in some instances, prevent water shortages and periodic drought.


Control Erosion

Erosion is an important consideration during site planning and construction. Avoid site clearance and levelling with heavy earth-moving equipment such as bulldozers. Hand clearing can provide income for camp residents and encourage participation in site set-up.


☞ For more information on camp set-up, see Chapter 7, Camp Set-up and Closure.

Rainwater Harvesting

In dry or seasonally dry environments, efforts can be made to encourage the use of basic rainwater harvesting methods. Often a specialist agency will set this up. The Camp Management Agency needs to have a general overview of how much water will need to be collected and stored. Rainwater harvesting can significantly supplement a camp population’s supply during periods of heavy rain and reduce the risk of drinking contaminated water, as long as the rain is safely collected.

For best results, the following options should be considered by the WASH agency in coordination with the Camp Management Agency and stakeholders:

  • harvesting rainwater from roofs where solid surfaces like clean plastic or metal can reduce contamination
  • trapping water flowing on the ground, gradually directing this towards storage units such as tanks or containers
  • encouraging local innovation to design appropriate systems of rainwater harvesting.


Environmental sanitation is closely linked to water availability and quality. It is important to consider:

  • the location and maintenance of latrines
  • disposal of human excreta
  • hygiene promotion
  • the removal of waste-water, including that from drains
  • elimination of solid and liquid camp waste which may range from medical waste to packaging
  • the siting of burial sites; they should be clearly demarcated and their locations notified, unless this is culturally unacceptable
  • the presence and control of livestock and dust
  • the control of insects, rodents, vectors and other pests

☞ For more information on sanitation, see Chapter 14, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.


Garbage Separation

The separation of types of garbage into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste should be encouraged, as should recycling schemes and the composting of waste food matter for use in horticulture.


Recycling Opportunities

In all camps, early consideration should be given to recycling opportunities, at the household level as well as for institutions providing humanitarian support. Common items which can be collected and recycled include:

  • organic household waste which can be composted and applied as fertiliser or soil enricher
  • packaging materials, particularly those commonly accompanying medical and food supplies
  • IT equipment – computer and screens, printers and cartridges
  • tyres
  • waste engine oil.

Some countries may already have waste and recycling programmes to which camps could join.


Good Practice in Disposal of Old Batteries

or those used for solar lighting or refrigeration, can be challenging for Camp Management Agencies. Batteries should not be buried, thrown into waste pits or burned. Some batteries might be collected – with acid from vehicle batteries being neutralised first – and stored in metal containers, pending eventual removal. This, however, will not prevent possible leakage within a container.

Good practice guidance indicates the need to:

  • consolidate and recycle batteries
  • ensure disposal is done in accordance with local and national environmental regulations
  • check the dates of batteries supplied with solar kits and vehicles
  • obtain proof of date of manufacture and ensure all batteries purchased are maintenance free and deep cycle, in other words, designed for multiple recharges and low power drain
  • use rechargeable batteries and conduct proper and timely maintenance to reduce the need to replace batteries
  • when closing camps, consider the option of gathering and removing all used batteries if an adequate local recycling option cannot be found
  • include a ‘take-back’ clause when procuring battery-powered devices.


Household Energy

In camp situations, the most visible and lasting environmental impact is often damage to the surrounding area caused by the collection of wood for cooking. For many IDP households, firewood represents the main, often only, means by which people can cook food.

Other natural resources, like animal dung and crop residues, are also used by displaced people for cooking, heating and as a source of light. Although circumstances will be different in each location, an average family requires between one and two kilograms, and as much as four or five kilograms, of fuelwood per day for cooking. When liaising with stakeholders, including committee leaders, the Camp Management Agency should make every effort to encourage the use of the least quantity of natural resources when preparing food. This entails:

  • promoting the use of fuel-efficient stoves which, when properly used, can significantly reduce the amount of fuel required. Experience has shown that for fuel-efficient stoves to work well in a camp environment there ideally needs to be a local shortage of fuelwood. This situation can also be induced through tighter control over the free collection of wood. Users also need time to become familiar with the stove design and its maintenance
  • encouraging the practices of drying and splitting wood before burning and extinguishing fires once cooking has ended
  • discussing with the food pipeline agency the possibility of distributing split, rather than whole, pulses, and/or encouraging people to soak hard foods such as beans for several hours before cooking
  • promoting shared cooking among groups of households. This practice, however, may not be acceptable in some cultures and is unlikely to be accepted where food rations are the primary source of food. Nonetheless, its potential is worth considering together with site/camp planners.

Some resistance to the use and/or uptake of fuel-efficient stoves is likely, partly out of unfamiliarity with the technology. As some foods are not suitable for cooking with fuel-efficient stoves some degree of modification of the food basket might be necessary. This should be done in consultation with households or communities and the food pipeline agency.

☞ For information on food security and non-food items distributions, see Chapter 13, Food Security and Non-food Items.


Natural Resources Assessment

The Camp Management Agency should carry out needs and availability assessments of natural resources such as fuelwood, within a 50 km. radius of the camp, and should monitor the situation and update findings regularly. Knowing household requirements and ways to complement the supply will help towards a better-managed system.


Fuelwood Risks

Fuelwood, the most widely used source of energy in camps, is often freely collected from the surrounding environment. Under certain circumstances high demand can lead to competition with host communities, a situation which can result in conflict and significant land degradation.


Energy conservation should be an integral part of an Environmental Action Plan and associated awareness-raising campaigns. Special provision may need to be made for groups at risk who may not be able to collect or purchase fuel. Other fuel/stove options for cooking should also be considered, giving priority to people's health by reducing emissions and exposure to smoke, environmental conditions and cultural cooking preferences.


Unintended Consequences

The free-of-charge collection, transportation, storage and distribution of fuelwood organised by humanitarian organisations or local administrations is, in some situations, the only way to provide camp populations with their basic requirements. This may, however, encourage camp residents to additionally collect wood in the area surrounding the camp and sell it in markets or make charcoal. It is necessary that the Camp Management Agency closely monitors the camp population’s use of firewood, at the household level, as well as the availability of fuelwood and charcoal.


☞ For more information about protection related to firewood collection, see Chapter 8, Protection.


Environmental Action Plan

All camp-based operations, regardless of their size or the time a camp is in existence, will affect the environment. Certain impacts may also be passed on to the host community, given the increased demand or competition for specific or scarce natural resources such as grazing or water extraction. Some of these demands may be constant, so it is important that the Camp Management Agency:

  • monitors an operation’s impact on natural resources and then aligns its programmes to address them
  • proactively advocates for the implementation of additional programmes for environmental protection
  • introduces alternative technologies and practices such as the promotion and use of fuel-efficient stoves and adoption of improved cooking practices.

An important tool is a Community-based Environmental Action Plan (CEAP). It allows camp residents, members of host communities, national authorities, the Camp Management Agency and other service providers to discuss common concerns and agree on a way to address them. A CEAP helps identify environmental impacts in all camp sectors and subsequently develop a priority list of interventions, such as rehabilitation of eroded areas and reforestation.

Some of the benefits of having a CEAP are to:

  • prepare the displaced population and the host community to manage the environment while a camp exists
  • highlight and prioritise people's main environmental concerns
  • identify how some of the main problems identified might be addressed
  • allow people to become actively engaged in the process as well as in practical actions
  • assign clear responsibilities to different stakeholders
  • serve as a monitoring tool to see what progress is being made to address problems and concerns.

As long as the community feels ownership for the plan through developing and implementing it themselves, albeit sometimes with external facilitation, it should also be able to adapt the plan to changing circumstances over time.

Environmental Rehabilitation

Environmental rehabilitation does not necessarily mean returning the site to its former status. This could be costly and time-consuming, if indeed it is even feasible. What may be more appropriate is to determine what the host community would like to see happen to the site once the camp has been closed and the site made safe. They may not, for example, wish to see it returned to its original status but might wish to continue to use the land for agriculture.

By pointing out different options that could perhaps be realistically achieved and more useful to them, the Camp Management Agency can then ensure that environmental considerations are taken into account in a timely and appropriate manner. Some options to suggest are:

  • income-generating activities which span a range of shortterm benefits, from market gardening to longer term investments such as hardwood production
  • turning an empty former camp site into a community plant nursery and tree plantation where the host population has access to the many goods and services these can provide, according to access and user rights agreed with the legal land owners.

In situations where camps are located on private land, the rehabilitation of the camp site should take place in close communication with the land owner and in accordance with prior agreements. National authorities have primary responsibility for promoting the rehabilitation of sites used to shelter refugees or IDPs. The Camp Management Agency may support the national authorities based on agreed guidance.

☞ For more information on site rehabilitation, see Chapter 7, Camp Set-up and Closure.

Planting Trees

Tree planting schemes often meet with mixed success in camp situations. While planting trees can serve as a useful indicator to visibly demonstrate that action is being taken to protect or restore the environment, some simple lessons should be heeded:

  • Plants grown in camp and village-based nurseries should reflect the required needs of IDPs and people living in the area. This necessitates prior consultation with different stakeholders.
  • Displaced people may not always see the benefit of planting or caring for trees as their hope is most often to be able to return home as soon as possible. Also, in certain cultures, planting or caring for trees is not commonplace. In many instances, however, people appreciate that they can easily grow a few fruit or shade-giving trees around their shelter and that this will provide some positive return.
  • The number of seedlings grown in a nursery is often a poor indicator of success, but one that is widely used for monitoring. The number of trees surviving after two years following planting is much more useful.
  • Establishing a woodlot for fast-growing, and ideally indigenous, species can help address shortages of fuelwood and/or construction materials. As with all plantations, however, the issue of who owns the trees and who might access products such as fruit and non-timber products needs to be determined in advance.
  • It is always preferable to support the planting of native over introduced exotic tree species. A balance may need to be struck in some situations, depending on local needs.


Tree Planting and Selection of Species

Tree planting is a long-term project! Projects must be funded for many years and/or adopted by local communities. Otherwise, they are sure to fail.


It is always preferable to support the planting of native over introduced exotic tree species, as the latter may become invasive or poorly adapted to local conditions. Tree planting schemes may fail, affect local biodiversity or damage soil and water. Eucalyptus trees are widely promoted in many camp settings though they require significant amounts of water and render the surrounding soil incapable of growing other trees or crops. A balance may need to be struck in some situations depending on local needs. One should always question the choice of tree species being promoted, even if this means not planting some types of trees.



Many camp residents establish small-scale agriculture projects while displaced. Local rules governing access to land, as well as people's previous experience and the amount of available space, will dictate the range of farming activities which might be considered. Using household waste water (grey water) to irrigate fruit trees or vegetable gardens can be a good conservation technique, especially in places where gardens are located within a family compound or when water is in short supply.

To make sure that forests and ground vegetation are not negatively impacted, the Camp Management Agency needs to monitor agricultural cooperation, in the form of labour or sharecropping, between local landowners and camp residents. Clear guidance must be given to people as to which land might be used for agriculture and which areas must remain untouched. Local rules governing land clearance and access must be established. Consideration should also be given to:

  • protecting and maintaining as much vegetation cover as possible, within and around the camp, to conserve both soil structure and nutrient content
  • encouraging organic farming practices, including composting and crop rotation: the use of chemicals and/or pesticides should be avoided
  • popularising methods of more environmentally friendly farming. Practical demonstration plots are a powerful means of showing what can be achieved with limited land and few resources
  • preventing soil erosion by building terraces or contour bunds (rocks or ridges of compressed soil) that break up the flow of water and channel water away from certain parts of a camp or towards zones where water may usefully be collected
  • correctly aligning roads and infrastructure so as to further prevent soil erosion
  • offering technical services where larger scale agriculture is practiced.



Many natural resources lend themselves to immediate personal use or potential gain through sale, becoming sometime an important source of livelihood for the camp population. Wild fruit, herbs, plants and wild animals may be caught and consumed or sold. Camp residents often collect fuelwood or transform it into charcoal to gain quick cash. To avoid such direct environmental exploitation and to ensure the security and welfare of the camp population, the Camp Management Agency should:

  • clearly articulate which types of activities are allowed, or are strictly prohibited, and get written agreements from national authorities through the involvement of the Camp Administration as well as the host community
  • ensure there is awareness of income-generating activities linked with natural resources. Small-scale craft making such as baskets, mats and screens from grasses, and small furniture items from bamboo or wood, may increase income. The scale of these initiatives needs to be balanced with environmental interests.

☞ For more information on livelihood, see Chapter 18, Livelihood.



The presence of livestock can be a cause of environment exploitation and contamination. Keeping livestock may not be possible in every camp situation. When it does happen it is important to:

  • have separate watering points distant from people’s living shelters and not contaminating ground or surface water bodies
  • ensure adequate sanitation around all animal pens and watering points
  • prevent transmission of diseases and parasites by collaborating with veterinary services to encourage good animal husbandry practices and vaccination campaigns
  • provide continuous sources of fodder. This may require adequate grazing land for free-ranging animals or a supply of cut food for penned livestock. Arrangements may be needed with local communities for grazing rights for larger herds.