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What We Do

Looking After the Land

Refugees and internally displaced people often have to rely on natural resources for their survival, particularly during an emergency. Trees may be cut to build or support simple shelters; firewood may be collected to cook meals or to keep warm; and wild game, fruit, herbs and other plants might be gathered as a source of food or medicine. These natural resources are also often used for livelihood and income-generation activities, such as agriculture or making charcoal to sell in local markets. However, unsustainable use of natural resources can lead to environmental degradation, with lasting impacts on natural resources and on the well-being of refugee and host communities relying on the environment.

Camps are never meant to be permanent, though many countries have refugees or internally displaced people (IDP) in the same place for several decades. UNHCR recognizes the potential damage that camps and settlements can have on the environment and the effect this has on the local economy and relations with host communities. As such, we are committed to reforestation, using selected native, fast-growing trees at designated sites close to existing camps. Where possible, women's groups are organized and supported in tree-planting activities, from establishing nurseries to after care and harvesting of fruit and other resources. This provides livelihood and income-generation opportunities for refugee and host communities.

Such a commitment to the environment requires, to the greatest extent possible, sound environmental management practices in all phases of refugee and IDP operations. Good practices are being promoted and applied at the field level, particularly in project planning, implementation, management and monitoring. To this end, UNHCR has developed an overarching policy to address environmental challenges, and the impact this has on the welfare of refugees and IDPs.

Climate Change

The earth's climate is changing, and that concerns us as it could lead to displacement.

Sustainable Environmental Management

A policy priority relevant in all our work.


Access to safe and sustainable energy is a basic need for everyone



Kenya: Solar Success StoryPlay video

Kenya: Solar Success Story

UNHCR chief António Guterres is impressed by a green energy programme, supported by Portuguese energy company EDP, that is helping refugees in Kenya's Kakuma camp.

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

Chad: Environmental ChallengesPlay video

Chad: Environmental Challenges

The search for water and firewood is a daily trial for the 250,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur in eastern Chad. The UN has found ways to alleviate the problems.