Trees of refuge giving back lost chances

You must be out in space if you have not heard about the refugee crisis – a dreadful outcome of many ongoing conflicts, including those in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Yemen.

These countries have also suffered from devastating droughts brought on by the 2015 El Niño, the effects of which were much stronger because of climate change. Scientists are arguing about whether the root causes of these wars can be attributed to climate change or not, but the result of all the calamities is a clear fact: millions are displaced and, after a decade of steady improvement, global hunger is on the rise.

While media attention was focused on Europe, most refugees are hosted by countries neighbouring those in conflict. The UN Refugee Agency reports Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, Germany and Chad are top refugee host countries. Low-income countries are the top refugee hosts, meaning they are really stretched with their resources.  

Refugee settlements are meant to provide a short-term shelter for people escaping terror at home, but the average stay in a refugee camp is now well over ten years. Nobody plans for this. Refugee camps are created sporadically and as temporary measures. In many cases the camps are far from infrastructure, often in resource scarce locations, susceptible to natural disasters.

Some camps in Ethiopia and Uganda host over 200,000 people - all of whom need water, food and energy, at the very least. “Humanitarian aid organizations provide food, but nobody considers that people need to cook it. So, refugees head to the nearby forests for wood fuel, increasing pressure on natural resources,” says Amare Gebre Egziabher (Senior Environment Officer, UNHCR) during the “Malnutrition in Protracted Crisis” side event at the 44th session of the Committee on World Food Security. Depleting forest resources leads to higher vulnerability to natural disasters and increases the risk of conflicts with the host communities, especially in countries with unclear land rights.

Considering refugees stay in host locations for almost a generation, there must be a better way to manage camps than throwing bags with humanitarian supplies at them. Here, yet again, afforestation and agroforestry offer a solution.

FAO works together with donors and host countries to support energy needs of the large refugee community in Gambella, Ethiopia. The project monitors deforestation and forest degradation through remote sensing and works to provide access to better cooking technologies, like improved cook stoves.

Displacement camps have also started to reforest degraded areas, creating multi-purpose tree plantations -  both for their own energy needs as well as for income. “Meeting energy supply is very difficult when hundreds of thousands of people arrive in an area in a short period of time. Therefore, it is vital to start supply planning at the very early stage of displacement,” says Eva Müller (Director Forestry Policy and Resources Division, FAO).

But trees are not just fuel – forests can provide nutritious foods, like fruits, nuts and mushrooms. The link between dietary quality and tree cover has already been well-documented. “You have to realize that refugee food distributed by the aid is mostly carbohydrates, forests can provide nutrition and vitamins needed for staying healthy,” says Mats Nordberg (Team Leader Forestry, FAO). There are also fodder trees and shrubs which are great for livestock rearing, especially in the arid areas.

Together with his team, Nordberg has been researching about the use and development of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). According to him, handicrafts and simple processed products, like jams or pickles, can make a big difference in refugee rehabilitation. Unfortunately, most of the sector is in the informal economy, and hence, it is hard to take a real grip on it. Nordberg thinks developing a universal customs code for NTPFs can be a big step forward.

If you have ever hidden in the shade of trees to escape the heat, then you know trees are also giant air conditioners with no bills. Planting trees will also revitalize arid soil, making it more resilient to droughts and floods. All that makes afforestation much more effective than continuous aid supplies.

What’s more, working together, be it on a tree plantation or with non-timber forest products, can create a social fabric for those who got it stolen by wars. It can help refugees to recover and to build a new home. After all, everyone deserves another chance.

This blogpost covers the CFS44 side event “Malnutrition in Protracted Crisis”

Blogpost by Ekaterina Bessonova, #CFS44 Social Reporter – ekaterina.bessonova(at)sei-international.org
Photo Credit: H. Caux, UNHCR/ACNUR Americas via Flickr 

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

23/10/2017 11:00

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