A Critique of the Global Literature on the Conservation Refugee Problem
Displacement of people has often been driven by large scale development projects, wars, disease and ecological disasters such as famine and drought. However, there is another category of displaced people who have often been ignored. These people who are victims of a much more noble cause are referred to as conservation refugees. Conservation refugees are people displaced from protected areas. Despite the existence of conservation refugees and their plight, only Brockington and Igoe (2006) have attempted a global literature review on the problem. While their study explains who conservation refugees are as well as when and where the displacements have occurred, my study goes further and critiques the international law and declaration designed to protect the rights of conservation refugees. I also examine conservation policies and the impacts of displacement on conservation refugees based on the Impoverishment Risk Reconstruct Model (IRR) of Cernea (1997). My literature review explains who conservation refugees and describes their global distribution. The review of literature in English and French uncovers 170 relevant articles, of which 73 dealt with issues directly related to conservation refugees. I find that most of the approximately 3,058,000 conservation refugees are members of 28 different indigenous groups displaced across 48 protected areas. I also introduce and discuss international law and declarations aimed at protecting conservation refugees and point out that it is not their inadequacy as laws in protecting conservation refugees but rather a local failure to enforce them. Conservation policies themselves are also a major factor in protecting inhabitants of protected areas. Often conservation organizations are more sensitive to the protection of flora and fauna rather than the well-being of the area’s inhabitants. Therefore, the goal of double sustainability is not met and this affects the relationship between local people and protected areas in a negative way. One thing we have learned is that protected areas across the world operate much more successfully when they are managed with or by indigenous peoples themselves.