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Assessment of forest resource degradation and intervention options in refugee-hosting areas of western and southwestern Uganda


Main findings

The assessment revealed the following key findings:

  • Both host and refugee households rely almost entirely on woodfuel to meet their energy needs. Firewood is dominant at Kyangwali settlement, where it is the primary fuel for 75.5 percent of households, while charcoal dominates at Kyaka II (where it is the main fuel for 77.5 percent of households). A similar but less pronounced pattern is seen among host community households, with firewood dominant in the villages around Kyangwali (being the main fuel for 92.5 percent of households) and less so around Kyaka II (78.7 of host households).
  • Refugee households using firewood as their primary fuel use less on average than host community households where firewood is the main fuel, within both the surveyed settlements. Similarly, refugee households using charcoal as their main fuel use less charcoal on average than host community households where charcoal is the main fuel, also in both locations. As a greater proportion of refugee households use charcoal as their main fuel, however, total average consumption is higher for refugees than hosts when converted to ‘firewood-equivalent’: average woodfuel consumption in firewood-equivalent is 2.6 kg per person per day (pppd) among refugees at Kyaka II and 2.8 kg pppd at Kyangwali, compared with 2.3 kg pppd and 2.6 kg pppd, respectively, for host community households around the same settlements. Construction, commercial activities and agricultural activities (which were not considered) contribute further to total wood demand. In addition, uncontrolled fires can cause significant biomass losses.
  • The sourcing of firewood is a cause of mild tension between refugees and host communities where they find themselves competing for the same resource. The majority of refugee and host communities do not report security threats while sourcing fuel, though in isolated cases individuals have been threatened by personnel guarding forest reserves.
  • The primary cooking system for the vast majority of host community households (76.2 percent) is the three-stone open fire. Within the refugee settlements, a greater diversity of cooking devices exists. The largest proportion of refugees at Kyaka II (41.5 percent) use improved charcoal stoves. At Kyangwali, the three-stone fire dominates (43.6 percent of households), followed by mud stoves in one-pot and two-pot versions (34.3 percent and 23.8 percent, respectively).
  • Users associate the three-stone fire with high smoke emissions, which are perceived to cause health problems, while mud stoves reportedly break easily, cook slowly, get damaged by rain, and do not hold the pot firmly during stirring. The majority of refugee and host community members obtain their stoves from the market or self-produce them.
  • Total estimated woodfuel consumption is 475,130 metric tons (t) per year for the combined population of refugees and host communities within 5 km of the four refugee settlements in the west (362,369 refugees [59%] and 252,262 Ugandans [41%]). The estimated above-ground biomass (AGB) stock within the same area is 2,521,426 t, with an annual increment of 194,039 t. Assuming that woodfuel demand is met only with biomass from within 5 km, there is therefore an annual deficit equivalent to 11 percent of AGB stock.
  • However, the results of the analysis of tree cover loss and land use and land cover (LULC) changes do not always reflect the losses of AGB that would be expected from woodfuel demand by refugee and host communities living up to 5 km from the settlement boundaries. That is, an annual loss equivalent to 11 percent of AGB stock is not borne out by remote sensing measurements. This could  be due to partial supply of fuel from further away, and potentially by absenteeism among both refugees and hosts. These complexities require site-specific analysis.
  • At Kyaka II, Kyangwali, and Nakivale-Oruchinga, tree cover loss was more concentrated in the 5 km buffer than the 15 km buffer, with the reverse being the case at Kiryandongo and Rwamwanja, suggesting no consistent link between the refugee settlements and patterns of tree cover loss. In Kyaka II and Kyangwali, tree cover loss was relatively low at 10-13 percent between 2001 and 2018, in both the 5 km and 15 km buffer zones. The lowest percentage tree cover loss was in the Nakivale-Oruchinga AoI, where the presence of trees was already comparatively low.
  • The highest loss of biomass between 2000 and 2017 occurred within 15 km of the Kyaka II boundary (1.2 million t), followed by Kyangwali (0.7 million t). Within the 5 km buffer, biomass loss was also highest at Kyaka II (271,000 t) and Kyangwali (223,000 t). The temporal pattern of tree cover loss around the settlements does not seem related to refugee population changes.
  • Humanitarian guidelines state that refugee settlements should be located at least at one day’s walking distance from protected areas or reserves, which is not the case with Kyangwali, Rwamwanja and Kiryandongo settlements, situated near Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, Katonga Wildlife Reserve and Kibeka Central Forest Reserve, respectively. The location of refugee settlements next to protected areas is not in line with Uganda’s conservation priorities or the global planning guidelines of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
  • The main drivers of forest degradation and deforestation in the settlement buffer areas are the expansion of commercial and subsistence farming; the harvesting of forest products, mainly for charcoal, firewood, and timber; and the expansion of settlements. These drivers often occur concurrently and are mutually reinforcing.
  • While refugee and host communities derive livelihoods from a variety of income-generating activities, the vast majority are involved in farming for food production and sale. Host community members are more likely to engage in farming for income-generation than refugees. Both communities are engaged in small businesses (e.g., groceries, tailoring, motorbike taxis, alcohol brewing, casual farm labor, and the sale of firewood and charcoal).
  • An integrated response involving stakeholders from different sectors is required. The assessment recommends several costed interventions to address the ongoing loss and conversion of forest land by supporting more sustainable environmental management, ensuring energy access for cooking, and contributing to building livelihood resilience in both refugee and host communities.
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