UGANDA’S ENVIRONMENT AND REFUGEES
Journalist Gloria Laker Aciro takes a look at local mitigation approaches in saving the environment around refugee communities
“There has been abuse posing a lot of damage to our environment. With With the support from UNHCR, last year we raised over 1.8 million different species that we distributed at no cost for both refugees and host community. For refugees they were also interested in fast growing species which can take about 9 months and are ready to use as fire wood or even to make charcoal. So as we do this with them we provide the alternative of saving energy. Families sometimes if they were using 3 bags per month, then the energy saving cook stove that we give them reduces this to one and half a bag per month and that has a huge bearing on the empowerment,” said PaxSakari, Executive Dictor RICE West Nile.
Millions of refugees continue to flee from their countries because of wars, climate change, hunger and political persecutions. UNHCR’s2018 report put Global refugee population at 25.9 million by end of 2018https://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2018/ . Refugees are searching for safetywith hopes of living in a secure and peaceful environment where they can lead a better life.
“East or west home is best” ceases to make sense when you are force to flee your own country and seek refuge in other countries.
Despite leaving unwillingly, the refugees in another land still encounter much more difficult times as they try to meet their basic needs, facing utmost challenges, they seek to find shelter and food.
Natural resources at their reach are affected. Trees are cut to provide reeds for construction of temporary houses and for cooking as sources of energy. Papyruses in swamps are used to make bedding materials and also for arts and craft work which earn them some money.
Uganda current hosts more than 1.2 million refugees who greatly rely on natural resources in and around refugee settlements for fuel, construction, and livelihood.
According to UNHCR, Uganda’s refugees consume an estimated 1.1 million tons of firewood every year since it’s the primary source of energy security. This has put a strain on the available natural resources in the hosting communities. However, it is unavoidable since refugees don’t have to depend entirely on Ugandan government and humanitarian organizations.
This excessive tree cutting is resulting in deforestation, soil erosion, depletion and pollution of water resources. When trees are cut, the ground surfaces are left without cover, extreme weather like heavy rainfalls consequently cause rapid flow of water on the surfaces which washes the top soil bringing about soil erosion.
Due to the increasing population, water resources are overwhelmed which causes shortages at times. Poor disposal of wastes around refugee settlements does no good but simply aids contamination of water points especially when rain falls. Environmental conservation comes at a cost and not everyone who is looking for survival takes that into consideration. Refugees have different priorities to focus on, starting with food and shelter.
In mitigating the impacts of refugees on the environment, the Rural Initiative for Community Empowerment (RICE-West Nile), a local community organization, is implementing several environmental mitigation innovation approaches in the Rhino refugee settlement and other parts of West Nile districts. According to RICE ED PaxSakari, their environmental and natural resource program is also blended with agriculture and school environment clubs in which school kids plant and nurture trees. Other RICEmeasures include recycling used plastic bottles dumped in settlements as well as introduction of energy conserving stoves. For more, see https://www.riceug.org/programs/
Meeting their goal of promoting sustainable use of natural resources and energy, with hopes of increasing access to modern and clean energy services which is a necessary precondition for achieving development goals. https://www.riceug.org/programs/
Therefore, there is a great need to increase tree planting and other environmental mitigations around refugee settlements and host communities as well.
Gloria Laker Aciro a trained peace& Development journalist living in Uganda. Email; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter; @OnlineRefugee