Gas initiative protecting refugees and improving lives

Burundian refugees in Tanzania are using gas as an alternative energy source, making their lives easier and safer.

Tanzania: Burundian refugees using LPG Gas

Burundian refugees queue in Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania to receive their LPG cylinder rations.  © UNHCR/Mariam Khokhar

NYARUGUSU, Tanzania - Juliet wakes up at the crack of dawn and busies herself preparing breakfast for her children. Things are a little different this morning; there are no crackling sounds of burning firewood or endless puffs of choking smoke. For the first time in her life, Juliet is using a brand new Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinder to cook.

“I am very thankful that now my family and I can cook without worrying about collecting firewood,” she says. Juliet is a  Burundian refugee living in Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania with her nine children. She is one of 15,000 refugees who have received LPG cylinders through an initiative by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, that aims to curb environmental degradation in the camp. The project which started in December 2016, targets over 3,000 refugee families from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For decades, refugees living in the Kigoma region where the camp is located have been using firewood as their main source of energy, particularly for cooking. This has had a negative impact on the environment due to high rates of deforestation.

“I am very thankful that now my family and I can cook without worrying about collecting firewood.”

Juliet, just like other women in the camp, has had to rely heavily on firewood to cook. This has made her adjustment to life in the camp difficult, as is the case with most refugees. Her journey to safety has been long, repeated and scarring. “My family first fled from Burundi in 1972 to escape the war,” she says. She had to flee severally, following a series of conflicts between 1996 to 2015. “Life is difficult. We, refugees, have to live a very challenging life.”

Juliet cooks lunch for her family using the LPG cylinder provided by UNHCR  © UNHCR/Agnes Mwangoka

However, this new initiative has given Juliet some much needed relief. She and her daughter no longer have to walk far to fetch firewood. “Sometimes we were chased away by farm owners, sometimes even arrested,” says her daughter, Maria who now has more time to help with the household chores.

The LPG project is not just providing refugees with alternative sources of fuel; it is a way of ensuring their protection. Women and children would previously travel at least 10 kilometres to collect firewood. This exposed them to increased protection risks, particularly Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).

Chansa Kapaya, the UNHCR Representative in Tanzania explains that firewood collection and cooking is the responsibility of women and girls in most refugee camps globally. “Having little access to clean and sustainable solutions, they spend hours each day gathering firewood and are most affected by the negative consequences of firewood collection and health hazards of open fire cooking,” she further explains.

“Having little access to clean and sustainable solutions, they spend hours each day gathering firewood.”

The project has greatly lessened the need for women and children to expose themselves to such risks while reducing the rate of environmental degradation.

Like Juliet, most of the refugee families are using the LPG gas stoves for the first time. “I have received a gas stove to cook. I had never used a gas stove before,” she says. But thanks to trainings organized by UNHCR and partner agencies, she is happy that she can now cook a lot faster.  She has more time to take care of other household chores. “The stove does not have the usual choking smoke as compared to cooking with firewood. This has resulted in a cleaner and healthier home for me and my children.”

UNHCR conducted a review of the project’s impact in February 2017; early indications show that families are pleased with using the cylinders and that most large-sized families of seven are able to use the six kilograms cylinder for two weeks. Additionally, since the project started, there has been a 70 per cent drop in the number of families collecting firewood - a significant reduction in the overall amount of firewood being collected. More interestingly, the number of children under 17 who used to collect firewood for their families has dropped from 21 percent to three per cent.

“I hope UNHCR can distribute the gas cylinder to every family so that all our children can have a better life in the camp.”

An LPG set is comprised of one full LPG cylinder, a burner and ignitor. However, at approximately 34 US dollars per set and nine US dollars per refill, more funding is needed to keep up with the growing demand to support all refugees across the three camps.

“LPG use for refugees is one of the few ways we are moving towards meeting the objective of universal energy access,” UNHCR’s Kapaya says. She stresses the need for more funding to enhance the project’s impact. “Now, more than ever, support from our partners and donors is vital to ensure that we meet this objective as well as enhance  efforts to mitigate against protection risks associated with firewood collection such as SGBV.”

Juliet echoes these sentiments. “I hope UNHCR can distribute the gas cylinder to every family so that all our children can have a better life in the camp,” she says, pointing to her cooking set proudly.

*Refugee's name changed for protection reasons.