In early 1999 the Secretary General of the United Nations visited Guinea, and met with Guinean Government representatives. The Guinean Government mentioned the issue of the Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, in particular the serious environmental impact as a result of the refugees. He made a strong appeal to the United Nations to assist in this matter. The SG subsequently asked UNEP for assistance in cooperation with UNHCR and other agencies involved.
The Executive Director of UNEP contacted the executive heads of UNHCR, UNDP and The World Bank to discuss this matter and ask their support. These agencies offered their full support and provided valuable inputs. The Executive Director of UNEP decided to set up a UNEP team with representatives from UNCHS (Habitat) and UNHCR, to prepare a mission to Guinea. The team followed the same approach as for the Balkans Task Force (BTF), making optimal use of the lessons learned from the BTF. The team of the BTF was involved in the initial stages of the Guinea pre-assessment. Following the example of the BTF, it was decided to undertake a pre-assessment; a rapid assessment to determine the main problems and needs. Based on the pre-assessment a proposal for follow-up would be made.
It was decided to first conduct a detailed desk study before undertaking the field mission to Guinea. The desk study involving experts from UNEP, UNCHS (Habitat) and UNHCR, prepared guidelines for the pre-assessment mission.
An environmental impact assessment mission was sent to the Republic of Guinea on 24 November by UNEP. The objective of the mission was to make a rapid assessment of the impacts of the refugees on the environment. The mission consisted of representatives of UNEP and UNCHS (Habitat), joined by representatives of UNHCR upon arrival in Guinea.
Experts with different backgrounds have been involved in the pre-assessment (refugee management specialists, environmental assessment specialists, field experts, human settlements experts, environmental management experts, lawyers, engineers, GIS/ mapping specialists, etcetera). In addition, both UNDP and the World Bank have been closely involved, through continuous information sharing at the headquarters level and through meetings in Guinea.
A report to the UN Secretary General on this first mission was finalised in March. A press conference was organised in Nairobi on 15 March 2000.