KORE - Knowledge Sharing Platform on Resilience

Rapid assessment of natural resource degradation in refugee impacted areas in northern Uganda


Main findings

The assessment revealed the following key findings:

  • The refugee influx from South Sudan has led to an increase in the rate of degradation and tree loss, both inside the West Nile refugee settlements and around their boundaries, with accelerated land cover changes in bushland and woodland. Deforestation and forest degradation are not new phenomena in Uganda, and the refugee presence has added to existing pressures on the environment, due to increased demand for wood as cooking fuel. Competition for available resources could become a source of tension between the refugees and host communities.
  • Land cover change analysis shows an increase in tree cover loss and degradation both within and around the refugee settlements after the start of the refugee influx from South Sudan. Within a 5 km buffer zone from the settlement boundaries, total tree cover loss between 2010 and 2013 was 1,919 ha, while degradation covered 5,664 ha (in woodland and bushland, including the areas of the settlements themselves). Meanwhile from 2014 to 2018, there was 34,112 ha of loss and 29,604 ha of degradation. Between the two periods, there was an average increase of around 14 percent of degradation and loss in woodland, bushland and cropland within 5 km of the settlement boundaries, and additional loss and degradation in an extended 15 km buffer - though the latter more likely reflects ongoing degradation by host communities rather than refugee-related impacts.
  • Refugee and host households are highly dependent on forests and other woodlands as sources of woodfuel for cooking and for income generation, contributing to their livelihood resilience. Average daily consumption of firewood by the refugees is 1.6 kg per person and among host communities is 2.1 kg, about 30 percent higher. Taking into account the additional use of charcoal, average daily fuel consumption rises to 1.8 kg per person in firewood equivalent among refugees and 2.2 kg among host community households.
  • Total cooking fuel demand in the 14 targeted refugee settlements is about 345,000 metric tons of wood per year (on dry weight basis), based on the April 2019 refugee population. This is about four times the quantity of tree growth within the settlements and the 5 km buffer zone, which could result in an annual biomass loss of about 8 percent. Only around the Maaji (I and II) settlements in Adjumani District is there an apparent surplus of woodfuel in excess of demand within the 5 km buffer zone. Based on the woodfuel demand and supply assessment, the refugee settlements with greatest pressure on the surrounding forests and other woodlands are Pagirinya, Nyumanzi, Imvepi, Palorinya, Bidibidi, and Ayilo (I).
  • Refugee woodfuel consumption at Bidibidi settlement has significantly reduced, to about half the amount recorded in a March 2017 survey, probably due to greater wood shortage, a more diverse diet with fresher food, drier firewood, and more efficient stoves and cooking practices.
  • Both refugees and locals have a tradition of building improved mud-stoves from locally available materials. A higher proportion of refugee households use such improved stoves than host communities, and in Bidibidi there has been a marked increase in their adoption since the March 2017 survey. Modern prefabricated cookstoves are also available in regional markets but are too expensive for most refugees and locals. Improved mud-stoves are likely to remain a practical cooking solution and are well-known and culturally acceptable. There would be value in confirming thermal efficiency, pollutant emissions, and safety of the adopted mud-stoves to identify areas of possible improvement.
  • Households need additional wood to build and maintain living structures. A majority of households have constructed semi-permanent structures and have improved their homes with latrines and kitchen shelters. A few have bathing shelters, animal sheds, and poultry/bird pens. The quantity of wood used was not measured under this study.
  • Although natural resource depletion is a concern for GoU and partners, there are few organizations working on environment and energy-related activities in in refugee-affected areas. Those organizations that do so generally operate at a small scale on 12-month budget cycles. To ensure a more effective and harmonized approach with appropriate technical expertise and adequate resourcing, there is a need for a coordinated package of interventions implemented on a multi-year basis through a multi-agency program. This would effectively address environmental degradation associated with the presence of the refugees and ongoing local drivers.


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