Refugees Depend on Trees

Refugees arrive from South Sudan at Uganda’s Bidibidi settlement camp. September 7, 2016 (Photo by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, June 26, 2018 ( News) – To help regenerate forests in areas hosting displaced people and refugees where heavy reliance on wood fuel puts forests and woodlands in jeopardy, two UN agencies have published a new handbook promoting sustainable livelihood opportunities through community-managed forests.

For their handbook, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calculate that there are 68.5 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide, 80 percent of whom rely on wood fuel for cooking and heating.

In areas hosting displaced people, often with scant resources of their own, dependence on wood fuel is especially pronounced.

“The massive increase in demand for woodfuel for cooking caused by sudden influxes of refugees and other displaced people is usually the main driver of forest degradation and deforestation in displacement settings. It places enormous pressure on nearby forests and woodlands and is often a source of tension between the host and displaced communities,” write Shukri Ahmed, deputy strategic programme leader, Resilience, FAO; and Craig Sanders, deputy director, Division of Programme Support and Management, UNHCR, in their Foreword to the handbook.

A lack of sufficient cooking fuel also has an impact on the nutrition and health of vulnerable people in such settings, they point out.

When a settlement is created for displaced people, it is often considered to be temporary. Yet in reality, displacements last, on average, more than 20 years, evolving into protracted crises and creating tough living conditions that undermine human health and prevent inhabitants from pursuing their usual livelihoods.

Planning the appropriate management of forests and woodlands in displacement settings is important, in both the short and long term, for ensuring sustainable energy access, minimizing environmental and social impacts, and building resilience in households and communities, the handbook states.

“As protracted crises increase, we have seen much degraded, treeless land in displacement settings. FAO and UNHCR have developed the long-term solutions required to create lasting, renewable sources of energy, food and income. We just need to implement them at scale,” said Ahmed.

“A business as usual approach will only continue fueling conflicts, as communities compete for scarce resources, and deprive future generations of vital natural resources,” Ahmed warned.

A tree nursery in the Mtendeli refugee camp, Tanzania (Photo by Arturo Gianvenuti) Published in the handbook “Managing forests in displacement settings.”

Ahmed and Sanders explain that, “A planning approach to the use of forest resources is crucial for building resilience and enabling sustainable development in both displaced and host communities. In particular, well-planned forestry interventions can ensure a sustainable supply of woodfuel, timber and non-wood forest products for those communities, thereby helping to ensure their well-being.”

Forests and trees underpin core ecosystem services such as freshwater supply, soil stability and fertility, agro-biodiversity and biodiversity conservation, all of which contribute to the resilience of communities.

“Responsible environmental management is integral to today’s approaches to dealing with large-scale displacement and managing its consequences,” explained Andrea Dekrout, UNHCR senior environment coordinator, Division of Programme Support and Management.

In Uganda’s Bidibidi settlement, for example, one of the world’s largest refugee-hosting areas, UNHCR and FAO estimate that annual wood fuel consumption mounted to over 300,000 tonnes in 2017.

At this rate of consumption, if left unmanaged, the wood fuel supply in Bidibidi will only last up to three more years and will wipe out the forest.

As hundreds of people every day cross the border from South Sudan, the countryside around Bidibidi is gradually turning into a vast refugee camp.

To address challenges like this, on June 20 FAO and UNHCR released the handbook “Managing forests in displacement settings,” which could be useful to all actors involved in forest management and plantation projects working to meet the needs of displaced and host communities.

“The handbook gives practical guidance on how to accelerate and support forest recovery and regeneration, protect forests, and plant trees to rehabilitate degraded land and support energy needs. It includes a list of actions – from growing trees to identifying, preparing and caring for nursery sites,” said co-author Arturo Gianvenuti, FAO forestry and wood energy specialist.

The handbook takes the reader through the establishment of a tree plantation, including the identification of suitable sites; appropriate soil conservation practices and site preparation methods; species selection for planting; adequate sources of seeds and seedlings; suitable sites for nurseries; and other important aspects of plantation design, establishment and management.

When needs are urgent, with the sudden influx of large displaced populations, the handbook recommends planting fast-growing trees, preferably indigenous species, to generate an ongoing source of wood fuel, small construction items and fodder.

The handbook also recommends planting trees for energy, timber, food and fodder, to generate income opportunities for refugees and host populations, help build their resilience, and reduce the environmental impact of displacement settings.

The handbook stresses that forest management plans should indicate who owns the right to harvest and who will benefit from the harvest of wood and non-wood products.

The involvement of the local community is crucial as it helps build a sense of ownership, and ensure forest interventions are well managed.

At this year’s meeting of the high-level political forum on sustainable development set for July 9-18, there will be an in-depth review of Sustainable Development Goal 15, which includes sustainable forest management.

Featured Image: The ‎Popular Committee for Refugees – Maghazi Camp, and the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights planted olive trees, placed Palestinian flags, and sang traditional and patriotic songs to mark Land Day March 30, 2014. (Photo by Joe Catron) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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