Refugees in Sudan take responsibility for environmental protection of camps

18 October 2007 | News story

Tens of thousands of mostly Eritrean refugees, living in eastern Sudan for more than 40 years, have taken the environmental rehabilitation of their camps into their own hands in partnership with hosting communities.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN), along with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Sudanese Forest National Corporation (FNC), has been training refugees to protect their environment.

For decades, the refugees who inhabit the Shagareb camps in Kassala and Gedaref State have suffered from deforestation and water and sanitation problems. Women and children have to walk further and further afield to find firewood and water. Employment is difficult to secure and the refugees have traditionally been dependent on agencies such as UNHCR and the World Food Programme for their livelihoods.

But the refugees and residents of the neighbouring Sudanese villages would like to be more self-sufficient, a concept encouraged by UNHCR. IUCN and FNC have been helping them ensure that the environment continues to provide them with their necessary living requirements in a sustainable manner. They were encouraged to draw a vision for their communities, and come up with a plan on how to achieve this.

IUCN, UNHCR and FNC representatives, who visited the Shagareb camps recently to assess the impact, said the training had paid dividends in terms of reforestation, agro-forestry plots, energy efficient stoves and other income-generating activities.

For example, they have planted drought resistant acacia trees in areas where temperatures often reach over 40 degrees Celsius. These provide fodder for livestock and fuel wood among others. Sorghum, intercropped with wild grasses, helps ensure livestock feed even in times of crop failure.

Director General of Sudan’s FNC Dr Ibrahim Abdelazim Mirghani said: “Much still needs to be done to restore the environment. Eastern Sudan has been hosting refugee camps since 1961 and forests are at the core of such environmental restoration activities. We need to improve the efforts of the refugees and hosting communities themselves. Sustainability is an issue.”

The Sudanese government currently hosts more than 100,000 mostly Eritrean refugees in Eastern Sudan, which at its height numbered more than 1.1 million in the past 40 years. Some of the camps are now gradually being closed down. Until now, environmental protection has taken a back seat to the more pressing problems of shelter, food and medical care.

As a result, the environment has become severely degraded over the years. A three-year project funded by the Government of Norway – Sustainable Options for Livelihood Security in Eastern Sudan (SOLSES) – contains a component whereby communities, with the help of organizations such as IUCN, FNC and UNHCR, will take greater responsibility for restoring their environment and thus improving their livelihoods.

For more information:

Please contact Grace Chepkwony, Communications Officer, IUCN Eastern Africa Regional Office, Tel: +254 20 890 605; Fax: +254 20 890 615;
Email: grace.chepkwonynoneiucn.org