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Gender and the environment, Djibouti

Gender and the environment, Djibouti

1 January 2001

Djibouti shelters about 22,000 refugees of primarily Somali origin. Climatic and soil conditions around the Ali Adde and Holl Holl camps are harsh, being dry and desert-like. Water shortages limit agriculture and restoration activities. At the same time, however, wood is widely used for cooking, building and charcoal production, the result being that vegetation is now scarce around the camps. These factors combine to place a particular burden on women who are primarily concerned with cooking. As resources diminish, these women are obliged to walk further and further each time they leave the camp in search of fuel.

Taking these issues into account, UNHCR, with assistance from the Institut Supérieur d'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques et Techniques, is supporting an environmental project aimed at relieving the workload of women, in particular, while at the same time contributing to local environmental protection and restoration. The project has the following components:

  • environmental awareness raising within the community;
  • small-scale rehabilitation and home gardening; and
  • domestic energy saving.

Community awareness raising

Even prior to the refugees' arrival in the Ali Adde and Holl Holl regions, the natural environment surrounding the camps was characterised by a lack of vegetation. The current refugee situation, in addition to these people having a nomadic culture has, however, placed an additional stress on the environment within and around the camps. Charcoal production, although illegal, is one of the main income-generating activities.

Increasing peoples' awareness of the environment is therefore an essential component of the project, with particular attention being given to women as they are traditionally in charge of wood collection and cooking. Environmental concerns are also being integrated into primary school curricula in the camps, in association with UNESCO PEER, which is already assisting UNHCR elsewhere in Africa.

Small-scale rehabilitation and home gardening

Given the camps' fragile environment, the presence and availability of water is a critical factor for any environmental restoration activity. By providing seeds and tools, refugee families will be assisted and encouraged to plant a few trees in their own compounds, using water sparingly but carefully. Many of the refugees are already familiar with developing and caring for home gardens, the usual outputs being tomatoes and onions. These vegetables are either eaten by the family or sold in the camp markets, the latter serving as a useful income-generating activity. Through this project, tree planting will be linked with home gardening as a practical means of rehabilitation.

Energy saving

As per their custom, the Somali women generally cook over a 3-stone fire. Although some of the women are already familiar with different energy-saving techniques such as chopping wood into small pieces, they are reluctant to use improved stoves and techniques such as pre-soaking food or cooking with one pot on top of the other. To investigate this further and to promote more widespread use of appropriate tools and techniques a domestic energy-saving programme is included in the project's design, the objective being to demonstrate that by improving energy efficiency when cooking, the women's' workload would be reduced as less wood is required for an equivalent amount of food cooked.

UNHCR hopes that the knowledge and skills the refugees might learn from the training programmes organised through this project will bring immediate benefits, as well as more long-term assistance when they are eventually repatriated.