Conference on Displacement, Forced Settlement and Conservation. (Reports and Short Notices)

Nomadic Peoples, December 2000 | Go to article overview
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Conference on Displacement, Forced Settlement and Conservation. (Reports and Short Notices)

Conference on Displacement, Forced Settlement and Conservation September 9-11, 1999 organised by Dawn Chatty Deputy Director, Refugee Studies Centre, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford

This conference brought together anthropologists, wildlife conservation specialists and ecologists to examine the impact which wildlife conservation and other environmental protection projects have on the lives and livelihoods of the often mobile, difficult-to-reach, and marginal peoples who inhabit the same territory and ecological niches. The conference also examined critically the popular concept of bringing indigenous populations into the management and running of conservation efforts. There are lessons to be learned from recent efforts in community managed conservation and the conference welcomed discussion and analysis which mediated the points of view of anthropologists, ecologists and zoologists.

Rationale for the Conference

It is estimated that 10 million people are displaced from their homes and communities each year through a combination of civil unrest, armed conflict, development projects (especially dam construction) and other interventions. The Refugee Studies Programme has in recent years undertaken to study many of these aspects of forced migration. In 1995 and 1996 it held two conferences on the theme of Development-Induced Displacement. In 1997 it held a workshop on the crisis in the Great Lakes region and in 1998 it organised a major conference on the Growth of Forced Migration. The disruption to human lives and livelihoods which recent wildlife conservation and other environmental protection projects has caused have not, however, been studied systematically.

Each year hundreds of thousands of mobile people, located in difficult-to-reach, marginal areas are displaced and often forced into permanent settlements in order to set aside land for the conservation of wildlife. These peoples consist of slash and burn agriculturalists, agro-pastoralists, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, traders, tinkers and travellers. Their attachment to land is of a different nature from settled communities and thus their displacement, and deprivation in the face of conservation efforts is often ignored or unrecognised.

Although a number of anthropologists have begun to publish articles and reports highlighting the plight of the indigenous communities who are most often ignored in conservation efforts (McCabe 1992, Turton1987, Howell 1987, Chatty 1996), there has been no unifying effort to give these voices a wide multidisciplinary platform which includes ecologists and zoologists. Anthropologists working alone cannot have much impact on conservation, but as part of a wider effort looking at biodiversity in its broadest sense, there is hope that conservation can be given a `human face' (Bell 1987). Two major research and philosophical threads ran through this conference. One thread was the philosophical underpinning of many modern conservation projects which presupposes that wildlife needs to be protected from people. Human beings, following the model established in the 19th century American and British conservationist and forestry traditions, are regarded as the destroyers of their environment and thus need to be excluded from areas of conservation. The second thread was the historical and still contemporary sentiment that mobile people (nomadic or unsettled) constitute a threat to settled communities and centralised political governments. Such communities are often regarded as backward, obsolete and disturbing to the march of progressive settled life. Hence many such communities are pushed into permanent settlements as a result of their forced removal from areas set aside for wildlife conservation.

A number of specific case studies were presented from Southern Africa (Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana) East Africa (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia), the Middle East (Oman, Syria, Jordan), Latin America (Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile), South and South East Asia (India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam) and Australia.

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