In Sudan, planting trees eases environmental impact of hosting refugees

Making a Difference, 1 July 2010

Women tending seedlings at a tree nursery in Sudan.

KASSALA, Sudan, July 1 UNHCR) Drive a few hours north-east of Khartoum towards Kassala, near the Sudanese border with Eritrea, and you will come across one of the UN refugee agency's most striking achievements in the region acre after acre of trees, stretching into the distance.

UNHCR has planted more than 19 million of them in a programme, launched a quarter-of-a-century ago, to green the denuded landscape of eastern Sudan. Species of acacia, neem, eucalyptus and many others, now cover almost 28,400 hectares of once barren land.

The refugee agency has been conducting the reforestation programme as part of its mandate to protect and assist refugees in eastern Sudan, including some who have been there for more than 40 years.

In the 1980s, more than a million refugees lived in the area. Today, 66,000 refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea live in 12 camps in four eastern and central states; while an estimated 40,000 others reside in local communities. About 2,000 new asylum-seekers arrive at the border every month.

The presence of so many people living in the area and needing wood for cooking and shelter has taken a heavy toll on the environment. UNHCR launched the planting programme in 1985 in a bid to redress the balance and to heal the land generously provided by the host nation.

The first reforestation programme in refugee-affected areas was implemented between 1985 and 1996 for UNHCR by Enso, a Finnish non-governmental organization specializing in forestry. Sudan's Forests National Corporation (FNC), with UNHCR's support, has continued these activities since 1997.

The FNC provides materials, seeds and tools, as well as training and technical advice on agro-forestry projects that benefit refugees as well as the local community. Women carry out most of the projects, which combine environmental and self-reliance activities with peace-building.

By preserving trees and bushes, rather than cutting them down for temporary gain, they provide a sustainable source of fruit, medicine, shade and fodder. They also prevent erosion, a major concern in an area where the sands of the Sahara encroach further every year.

UNHCR funds reforestation and agro-forestry projects in and around the camps where its staff operate. At one, the Kilo 26 Refugee Camp, new trees and irrigated farmland cover 37 hectares.

The crops, including okra, tomato, cucumber, water melon, beans, onion, sorghum, groundnuts and fodder for livestock, are planted between lines of trees, which create a microclimate that helps increase production and provide vegetables in the off-season.

Locals and refugees ensure the project's success. Their nurseries produce 7,000-8,000 seedlings a year for fields or home gardens. The programme benefits 6,000 locals and 9,000 refugees. "The project has assisted us, through agro-forestry, in the cultivation of vegetables for household consumption and for sale in local markets," said one refugee.

The FNC has a training centre for the refugees at the Shagarab camp, where it teaches environmental awareness, tree planting, seedling production and alternative energy use. In addition, locally made mud stoves have reduced fuel consumption by 40 per cent.

"Engaging the refugees through this project in natural resource management has increased the refugees' sense of ownership and responsibility, while benefiting the environment and host communities," said Dualeh Mohamed, a UNHCR staff member involved in the programme.

By Karen Ringuette in Kassala, Sudan




UNHCR country pages


How UNHCR and partners seek to minimize the environmental impact of refugee operations.

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.

Battling the Elements in Chad

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Since fighting broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur last year, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Chad. They are scattered along a 600-km stretch of desert borderland under a scorching sun during the day and freezing temperatures during the night.

Access to these refugees in this inhospitable region is difficult. Staff of the UN refugee agency drive for days to locate them. Bombing in the border zone and cross-border raids by militia from Sudan put the refugees at risk and underscore the urgent need to move them to camps in the interior. In addition, the approach of the rainy season in May will make the sandy roads impassable. Aid workers are racing against time in an attempt bring emergency relief to these refugees.

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.
UNHCR: Protection Speech at ExComPlay video

UNHCR: Protection Speech at ExCom

UNHCR's Head of News Adrian Edwards interviews Volker Türk, the agency's protection chief, about his address to UNHCR's governing Executive Committee on the global protection environment.
Canada: Light Years Ahead
Play video

Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.