RPN 21 published April 1996

5. Rehabilitating the host environment

A participatory approach to forestry interventions by Charles O Nyandiga

The negative impact of refugees on the woody and herbaceous resources of the host environment is a matter of common concern. The GTZRESCUE approach to the problem comprises rehabilitation, enrichment planting, and creating environmental awareness. A participatory integrated resource management structure incorporating refugees, host community, NGOs and the government has been developed and is now the major mechanism for rehabilitation efforts and for developing and enforcing guidelines for sustainable management of common resources.

Kenya hosts refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, mainly in camps at Kakuma near the KenyaSudan border and at Dadaab near the KenyaSomali border. Dadaab region is home to over 115,000 refugees, primarily from Somalia. These are distributed in three camps: Ifo (44,312), Hagadera (40,997), and Dagahaley (30,574).

Dadaab has a semiarid to arid environment, with high temperatures (2340°C), annual rainfall of 150350 mm and an evapotranspiration rate of 2,1002,500 mm per annum. Considering the fragility of this environment, the refugee population threatens to degrade a large area, increasing with each year. The major cause of environmental degradation is overharvesting of wood, primarily for fuel and building materials, the two basic necessities of life not provided by UNHCR and other agencies.

In addition, refugees' use or misuse of common resources may cause conflicts with their hosts; for example, physical altercations frequently occur in Dadaab over harvesting of materials for fencing.

Interventions to address these environmental problems are both short and longterm. Longterm approaches involve rehabilitation and introduction of sustainable methods of resource management. Shortterm approaches mainly aim to reduce utilisation of the resources, for instance through the use of improved cooking stoves to reduce domestic energy consumption.

The Rational Energy Supply, Conservation, Utilisation and Education project (RESCUE) is a UNHCR project implemented by GTZ in collaboration with the Government of Kenya . To alleviate the environmental problems caused by the presence of refugees in the Dadaab area, the project has adopted a twopronged approach: firstly, to provide minimum stopgap interventions to the numerous pressures that refugees put on the environment; and secondly, to make refugees and the host community the main agents of intervention. This is based on the recognition that refugees can positively contribute to environmental conservation in collaboration with their hosts.

Impact of refugees on wood resources

Refugees can affect the environment negatively in the following ways:

RESCUE intervention approaches

i) Nonformal participatory environmental education

The objectives of this approach are to create awareness, teach skills, change attitudes and facilitate participation of target groups (refugees, NGOs, GOK and host communities) in environmental protection measures.

Step 1. Predemonstration environmental awareness

Each camp is organised into residential blocks. The blocks are normally ethnically homogeneous and have a social structure, which the project utilises to organise educational meetings. First, social leaders are thoroughly briefed on the intended meetings, and a venue is selected. The leaders are requested to mobilise block members for the occasion. A group of women extension workers explain afforestation activities, using visual aids and demonstration materials. Discussion is encouraged. At each meeting specific environmental issues are addressed.

Step 2. Demonstration of information discussed in the block meeting

Following the meeting, participants reassemble in a household where demonstration materials have already been acquired. Extension workers plant demonstration trees, emphasising seedling protection, common pests, spacing, species types and requirements. Questions are encouraged; strategies and project support are discussed. The group then visits the nurseries to collect seedlings of different species.

Step 3. Postdemonstration inspection of the same target population

Immediately after seedlings are distributed, extension workers make a followup visit to check on planting and protection. General weak points observed can be addressed at the next block meeting, while housetohouse visits enable discussion of individual problems. Households which tend the seedlings successfully for three months are eligible for an improved stove. Meanwhile, they are encouraged to construct zerocost earth mound cooking stoves (Rhoda stoves), which have also proved useful in conserving energy.

ii) Schoolbased environmental education

The approach followed emphasises the physical involvement of the pupils in environmental concerns. Structured discussions held by the project staff for pupils and teachers cover the following topics:

The programme has had a useful impact on the pupils and the general population.

In particular, nomadic households were more successfully involved in tree planting. The pupils became important collaborators on the project within the refugee community and no doubt most of the watering needed at household level was performed by school children. An environmental club was set up in each school, leading to interclub meetings and an annual regional and campbased environmental competition, with a trophy for the best school.

This schoolbased environment programme demonstrated the need to have a teacher of environmental issues armed with an appropriate teaching kit. The development of environmental kits for refugee situations is now being initiated and a pilot project will take effect by 1996 (Talbot 1995). Constraints noted through this approach included lack of tools and equipment, lack of commitment by headmasters, lack of teaching material, and shortage of teachers with recognised qualifications. The need for constant incentives points to concerns that have been expressed about the sustainability of this approach.

iii) Environmental working group

Late in 1995, the project initiated an informal environmental working group (EWG), consisting of local and refugee elders, government representatives and NGOs, to discuss environmental problems, make recommendations and propose suitable people to carry them out. For example, an effective task group on sustainable harvesting of Commiphora africana (A.Rich) Engl. and Commiphora bluensis for security fencing in Dadaab demonstrates the kind of multilevel participation expected.

Responsibilities for harvesting (branch cutting in line with EWG guidelines) and monitoring (via local team leaders nominated by the area elders) were allocated. The host community identified sites for exploitation, the refugees and local people each provided half of the donkey carts (paid per trip) for transport, while the refugee members carried out the actual homestead fencing. Resource protection and policing by the host community developed naturally and became extremely effective. The participation of the hosts was doubtless partly motivated by the tangible benefits (money) accruing from the exercise, and the fear of largescale destruction of the important Commiphora species.

The EWG is linked to the government Divisional Environmental Committee (DEC) and empowers the local population to have a say in the management of natural resources. Resolutions of the EWG are considered for adoption by the DEC. This augments the localised environmental committees, and could become a channel for future nonformal environmental education.

iv) Vegetative rehabilitation

Initiatives to contain badly denuded areas (either through natural regeneration or tree planting) have been undertaken since 1993. Up to 36 dry land tree species have been introduced. These were propagated in four central nurseries producing over 320,000 seedlings per year for distribution. Provenance trials were carried out across the varied camp environmental gradient to create a selection of campspecific species, based on their survival both under irrigation (around households, tapstands and agency compounds) and rainfed planting (in green belts under various sizes and types of microcatchments). The aim now is to increase the tree standing stock to the point where natural regeneration will proceed once the camps close, but not necessarily to reafforest every empty area.

Natural regeneration through a protective approach has shown great potential in camps where the site was not bulldozed. Through this method, the project has achieved an estimated vegetative cover of about 510% after a year of enclosure. It is envisaged that this will develop into a climax vegetation formation comprising Omocarpum, Acacia, and Commiphora species, which should form at least 1015% of the vegetation cover. Such a scenario should ensure longterm recovery of the sites. It is hoped that if this process is assisted by enrichment planting with useful and more productive species, the range condition can be improved both qualitatively (by reintroduction of lost important perennial grasses and tree species) and quantitatively (increase in species diversity).

The major hindrance to natural regeneration strategy is that most dry regions lack sitespecific information on processes and rates of vegetation recovery. Therefore the strategy is to enclose only those areas that show potential for natural regeneration, as opposed to blanket protection of all denuded areas, some of which may take a very long time to show any signs of recovery. Areas with low regeneration potential are better rehabilitated through intensive enrichment planting programmes.

Lessons learned and recommendations

1. The project initially failed to recognise the different attitudes to tree planting of different groups. The nomadic Somalis were interested in grass and water development, while the settled or urbanised Somalis, the Ethiopians and the Sudanese were aggressive in rehabilitation work. Phase II of the project was mandated to address these gaps and fully involve the host community, which was a major stakeholder in the rehabilitation efforts.

2. Refugees should be consulted on the types and modalities of providing incentives, which need not be directly related to the project objectives but should enhance environmental awareness.

3. Once the objectives of the project are understood, the extension approach should be varied, including more intensive housetohouse visits as well as guided discussions on specific topics for specific target populations.

4. The involvement of pupils in environmental matters should not be incentive driven but based on needs as perceived by the teachers. Pupils' involvement in practical aspects ensures early awareness and sustainability.

5. It is vital to ensure host community participation in rehabilitation work. At the outset, project workers should gather information on traditional use of natural resources and set up a consultative structure which empowers the host community. Through this forum, guidelines on common natural resource use and protection can be formulated and respected.

6. A revegetation plan should be developed according to the extent of degradation around a particular refugee camp. To encourage the closing up of rehabilitated areas when the target area returns to normal use, the potential for natural regeneration and approach for curative action (tree planting versus grass propagation) need to be spelt out, rather than rehabilitating patches of land in an uncoordinated way.

7. Baseline surveys should gather data on the climate of the area, so that anticipated activities fit in with weather variations.

Charles O Nyandiga is Field Coordinator for the GTZRESCUE Project (Rational Energy Supply, Conservation, Utilisation and Education), based in Dadaab, Northeastern Kenya.


Talbot C, Refugee environmental education: a concept paper, Office of the Senior Coordinator on Environmental Affairs, UNHCR Geneva, 1995.

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October 1996