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Refugee crises, whether caused by war or climate change, demand a landscape-led approach

Oana Baloi

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With increased frequency of events causing displacement and migration, the landscape architects’ strengths in linking humanitarian practice with the climate response commitments of host countries demand the ability to read the land and understand the public realm dynamics. Essential to this is the
capacity to incorporate nature-based solutions in the spatial development of climate resilient settlements whether temporary or permanent.

Some refugee camps are over 25 years old. They are places which need to provide safety and resilience
for already vulnerable people. They need to avoid disrupting the capability of people to learn and perform
livelihood activities and to avoid creating conflict over resources such as wood and water. In Uganda, the
resources allocated by the government to Koboko, a small town neighbouring a refugee camp, do not match the population, because refugees leave the camp for town during the day. In response to this, inclusive and participatory public space projects have been undertaken by teams including landscape architects, designed to tackle the conflicts between host community and refugees, promoting peaceful coexistence.

The outbreak of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2017 led to 1.4 million people becoming internally displaced and over 31,000 refugees fleeing to northern Angola. The initial site selected for the new refugee camp was in a flood risk zone and was later moved to safer ground. In this instance, the team should have included a landscape architect in the very first stage of humanitarian response, to support the climate resilient planning of any new settlement and, if needed, to influence
the site allocation to areas that were not risk prone without having to relocate the site.

Although humanitarian assistance is incrementally expanding the support to host communities, the typical spatial arrangement is based on a standard camp layout. A spatial redevelopment plan is also needed after a camp closure, which often implies a change of land use and environmental recovery.
The trend in humanitarian assistance is to collaborate closer with local authorities in ensuring that they leave a legacy relevant to local development. This might include infrastructure such as roads, drainage, electricity and water supply systems and general structures such as education and health facilities.
In Kalobeyei, a new settlement for refugees and host communities located in the dry lands of northern Kenya, the spatial plan rigorously followed both the humanitarian principles and the national planning policies, aiming at a resilient settlement managed by the host community after the return of the
refugees to their home countries. The landscape architects worked to enable durable solutions in the camp setting, such as mapping of the seasonal streams in public space, to prevent the negative impact of flash floods; showcasing how water dams and community gardens with underground rainwater harvesting structures help the drought response. In some cases, the road infrastructure was modified from the initial plan in order to prevent unnecessary deforestation of the already scarce tree cover.

Landscape architecture’s contribution to the development and humanitarian sector needs more documentation and outreach, while the sectors need more landscape architecture skills to ensure safe,
climate responsive and low emission cities and settlements of all sizes, for all.

Thought Piece

Displacement

Ethiopia

2019