Easing the pressure

01 October 2011 | News story

The Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya, the biggest in the world, is vastly overstretched due to an influx of people fleeing conflict in the wider Eastern Africa region. The local environment is equally feeling the strain.

Settling huge numbers of refugees for a prolonged period of time has a profound negative impact on the environment. Problems include deforestation, land degradation and pollution of water resources. There is also intense competition between refugees and host communities over natural resources.

Most refugee camps in Eastern Africa are situated in dryland ecosystems and, given the complex social challenges of refugee settings, new approaches are needed to restore and manage these severely degraded areas.

Since 2007 IUCN has worked with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and with both refugee and host communities to develop way of reducing environmental impacts and restoring degraded areas in both open and closed camps.

Through a Community Environmental Management Planning (CEMP) approach, both the host communities and refugee population have been equipped to address the underlying issues that have affected their environment and subsequently their livelihoods.

This approach has also helped UNHCR and its implementing partners to bring a stronger environmental perspective to their day-to-day humanitarian interventions and to address the underlying challenges of natural resource governance, control and ownership. Both refugee population and host communities are keen to avoid severe degradation and improve their livelihoods opportunities by securing their natural resources.

The CEMP approach involves helping communities to highlight priority issues, map key resources, agree on a common vision and define actions to ensure the restoration of highly degraded refugee hosting areas. This work is currently being carried out in Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

Particular success has been achieved through supporting community rehabilitation in Sudan. UNHCR, IUCN, the Sudanese Government’s Forest National Corporation (FNC) and the Commission of Refugees (COR), together with state authorities have helped refugees and host communities to take greater responsibility for restoring their environment and improving their livelihoods. The support has paid dividends in Sudan where once-degraded landscapes now boast acres of drought-resistant acacia trees using agricultural practices that provide livestock fodder, firewood, gums and resins as well as basic food crops.

The CEMP process and the lessons learned from it will play a key role in shaping future policies and practices to develop environmental restoration and land use planning. Eventually, through this approach, communities will be weaned from dependency on humanitarian assistance to become increasingly responsible for improving environmental conditions and enhancing their livelihoods.

For more information, contact Guyo Roba, IUCN Programme Officer for Drylands: guyo.roba@iucn.org