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International recognition for clean, safe ethanol stove used by refugee

News Stories, 6 June 2008

© Courtesy of the Ashden Awards
A local workshop where components for the ethanol stove are being made.

KEBRIBEYAH REFUGEE CAMP, Ethiopia, June 6 (UNHCR) The partnership between the UN refugee agency and an environmental organization has helped to slow deforestation, curb sexual and gender-based violence, reduce indoor air pollution and ease friction between refugees and locals in a corner of Ethiopia.

And now the efforts of UNHCR and the Gaia Association in distributing an innovative ethanol stove to Somali refugees in Kebribeyah Refugee Camp have been recognized internationally. Gaia has been nominated as one of seven finalists for this year's Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, the world's leading green energy prize. The winner will be announced in London on June 19.

Since starting the project in 2005, the Gaia Association has supplied the clean and safe Swedish-designed CleanCook stoves to every family in Kebribeyah camp as well as other refugee families in eastern Ethiopia, which has seen an influx of refugees from Somalia since 1991. The camp hosts 17,000 refugees.

The stoves help reduce the amount of fuel wood that each family needs to collect by nearly four tonnes a year. The ethanol is produced from molasses, a by-product of the local sugar industry, whose disposal previously caused water pollution. UNHCR and Gaia distribute a litre of fuel a day to each family.

Local manufacture of the stoves is expected to get under way soon, while UNHCR and Gaia plan to expand the project to all refugee camps in Ethiopia. Some stoves have already been distributed in Awbare, a second camp for Somali refugees in the region.

The environmentally friendly CleanCook stoves have proved a great hit in Kebribeyah, where cooking used to be done on open fires or using simple wood-burning stoves made from clay. They are particularly popular among women and girls in the camp.

"Before I received the stove three years ago, I gathered fuel wood outside the camp two or three times a week, leaving my house at sunrise and returning in the afternoon," recalled Habiba Ali Oumer, who has been a refugee in the camp since 1992.

She had to cook for 15 people in a poorly ventilated shelter, which soon filled up with smoke. "More worrying to me, however, was the danger we faced while collecting wood," she said, adding that her 18-year-old daughter narrowly escaped being raped while out foraging for firewood.

"Barely six months after I started using the stove, life has become much easier and I do not miss a single class at school," said fellow refugee, Furdosa Mohammed, 17, who was born in the camp. When she had to gather wood, she missed school regularly and is now trying to catch up.

"The clean energy, safe energy programme at Kebribeyah has restored the dignity of women and girls whose task it was previously to gather fuel wood with all of the associated risks," said Ilunga Ngandu, UNHCR's regional liaison office representative.

"The reduction of the pressure on the natural environment surrounding the camp will help harmonize our relations with the local communities and the host government and guarantee asylum," he added.

This was reiterated by UNHCR Environment Officer Amare Gebre Egziabher, who has played an important role in the project. "We estimate that 90 to 95 percent of the pressure on the environment has been lifted in this arid and semi-arid region." He said this meant less friction over scarce resources between refugees and host communities.

By Kisut Gebre Egziabher

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Environment

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Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

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Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

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While much work still needs to be done, especially to find sufficient water in the arid region, life in the camps has reached a certain level of normalcy, with schools and activities starting up and humanitarian aid regularly distributed to the residents. Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to improve services and living conditions in the existing camps and is working to set up new camps to take in more refugees from the ongoing violence in Darfur.

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