Eviction for Conservation: A Global Review

Displacement resulting from the establishment and enforcement of protected areas has troubled relationships between conservationists and rural groups in many parts of the world. This paper examines one aspect of displacement: eviction from protected protected areas. Opinions about the natures and scale of this problem are divided. Some authors have stated that the literature on evictions from protected areas offers ‘a massive cataloguing of past, recent and ongoing abuses’, while others assert that ‘to date little empirical evidence exists to substantiate the contention that parks are bad for local people’. We believe that the truth lies somewhere between these two positions. There are many cases of displacement which the latter authors are ignoring. But the first statement exaggerates the quality, extent and order of knowledge. Our grasp of the subject is simply not as good as they claim.

We carried out a global review of protected area evictions, looking for as many as we could find in published literature. The reports we collected covered only 184 protected areas. Many were scant or poor quality often giving no details at all (such as dates, numbers of people, reasons) about the moves. It is highly likely that much has gone unreported. But we can get some inkling of the geography of evictions from these studies. Evictions have been most common in Africa, South and South East Asia and North America; relatively few are reported in this literature from South and Central America, Australia, Europe, the former Soviet Union and most of the Caribbean and the Pacific.

We also learnt something of the history of eviction. Most protected areas from which evictions have been reported were set up before 1980. This is not a global trend, but the consequence of the strong patterns in North America and Sub- Saharan Africa which are well represented in the cases we have studied. In some regions (Central America, South and South East Asia) the opposite trend is apparent, with more protected areas for which evictions are reported established after 1980. Regardless of the trends in establishment, we should not infer the timing of evictions from the date of establishment. In many cases laws providing for the removal of people from a protected area were not established until long after it was set up.

But there are remarkably few studies published on eviction before 1990, and a surge of publications thereafter. The surge does not appear to have been driven by a spate of recent evictions. Rather they were mainly the result of a spate of historical investigations. This has characterised a number of investigations of protected areas in Southern Africa and Eastern Africa. It has been a particularly strong feature of scholarship emerging from North America. In other regions (such as South America) the relative lack of historical re-examination, and the general paucity of eviction cases, suggest that the practice has been relatively rare.

Where eviction is still prevalent, it is often bound up with other debates about environmental change or degradation (Tanzania), ecosystem services (Thailand), or the appropriate development strategy for undeveloped people who live in parks and who need to be moved out so that they can become proper citizens (Botswana). Large conservation NGOs were not generally prominent in eviction operations.

Eviction remains one of the techniques conservation requires to achieve its goals. The issue is how it is carried out, and with what consequences to local people. Unfortunately many of the important players in conservation circles are yet to come up with a coherent response over how to handle evictions humanely.

Given the preliminary nature of this review, and the poor quality of the literature which we were dealing from with, we are hesitant to use it to describe the state of eviction from protected areas, but we have suggested a number of hypotheses which we hope other studies of this phenomenon will test. Perhaps most importantly our review also showed that there were far more important things going on than just eviction. It remains the most dramatic and devastating impact, the most violent thing a state can do to its lawabiding citizens. But it is not the most prevalent problem that many people face in and around protected areas and there is a real danger that a focus on eviction will divert attention away from more pressing issues.

Originally published as:
Brockington, D. and J. Igoe. 2006. Eviction for Conservation: A Global Overview. Conservation and Society 4(3): 424–470.

This article is from issue


2008 Sep