Whenever a large number of people settle suddenly in an area that was formerly uninhabited or sparsely populated, there will be many environmental effects. Take a small-scale example: an outdoor camp-on-site music festival, like Woodstock, Sasquatch or Wacken Open Air in Europe. With an influx of tens of thousands of people, even for a short time such as a few days, you have to get food and water to them, keep some sort of order amongst them, and most importantly for the environment dispose of their trash and waste. If this is a planned event like a music festival there will be infrastructure delivered on-site to handle these problems, but what about a sudden unplanned settlement, like a refugee camp after a natural disaster? Right now tens of thousands of people are living in tent cities in Haiti and Chile following the earthquakes there. There’s not enough bathroom facilities for them, meaning that local waterways will become fouled with human sewage. The foot and car traffic that springs up around settlements will overburden roads and tear up the natural ground. Longer-term and more subtle effects like microclimates and effects on local ecosystems will begin to take root.
In the case of permanent settlements that are built up fairly rapidly–like a housing development, for instance–animals that formerly lived in the area will be displaced, thus stressing the ecosystems that they’re forced to move to; the watershed may be disrupted because now there are suddenly a lot more non-permeable surfaces (asphalt, concrete, roofs etc.) for storm water to wash off of, and vehicle traffic will begin to affect the air quality. If new settlements are built carelessly without regard to the environment of the area, significant problems could lay in wait down the road not only for the local environment, but for the residents themselves who might find themselves facing unintended consquences of their new homes.
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