Sound environmental management is central to refugee security and well-being. Managed sustainably, the environment can supply much-needed goods and services for refugees and Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) including fuel wood and building material.
In the Horn of Africa, large numbers of refugees and IDPs are living in hot, dry and fragile environments. All rely on their local environment for fuel, shelter, food, livestock fodder and other sources of income and welfare. At the Dadaab refugee hosting area of north-eastern Kenya, each refugee on average requires 0.7kg of firewood per day, which represents 70 tons per 100,000 refugees per day. This has a value of about $9,000 per day (or $3.3 million per year for 100,000 refugees). In Dadaab there are over 400 000 refugees which means a fuel wood requirement of approximately 100,000 tons per year.
Tenadba is a Sudanese village of 350 families, including former refugees. No trees can be seen around the village, except for some planted around the homes, and there is a small forest reserve along the river. “There were many trees in this area before the refugees came, but now you cannot see a single one on the horizon,” said the village chief. “As a result, the climate is unbearable,” he adds.
Now, work, involving IUCN and partners is underway to supply gas for cooking and fuel-efficient stoves to help ease the pressure on forests.
Margaret Mohammed lives with her family of 10 in Tenedba village and is fortunate. She has a fuel-efficient stove to cook her flat bread, and a gas stove purchased under a loan scheme. Because of the plentiful gas supply in Sudan, the supply of stoves is heavily subsidized. The stove, Margaret says, is excellent. “It does not produce any smoke, nor sparks, I can cook faster and it is cheaper than using fuel wood – I cannot imagine life without it.”
The combination of using the fuel-efficient and gas stoves has greatly improved the quality of life for Margaret and her family. Margaret no longer spends hours each day searching for fuel wood, and has more quality time to spend with her family. Using the gas stove has reduced fuel wood consumption by 40% (based on 2 kg of fuel wood per family per day). This is a saving of over 700 kg per year per family or a saving of about $700 per year.
Many humanitarian organizations are starting to integrate environmental concerns into their operations but more attention is needed. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners including IUCN are investing in environmental restoration and Community Environmental Action Plans (CEAPs) in refugee hosting areas throughout the Horn of Africa. This work is beginning to bear fruit. For example UNHCR provided support to the Forest National Corporation in Eastern Sudan and to date, more than 7,000 ha of forest and woodlands have been restored. But this is only part of the story, as refugee and IDP impacts on the environment are far wider than fuel. This calls for more integrated local level management planning and action.
Through the CEAP-type process, environmental restoration and management activities are being implemented in a number of locations in Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. Sustainable natural resource management is realistic in refugee situations but requires institutional commitment and funding for the support of refugee well-being and security, and for the sustainable management of the environment, including restoration where necessary.
ArborVitae, IUCN’s Forest Conservation newsletter issue 38 - Forests and conflict