In eastern Chad, where arable land is scarce, groundwater is difficult to access and trees are disappearing, it is increasingly tough for local residents and some 250,000 people who fled neighbouring Darfur to meet their most basic daily needs.
“I have seen a change in the local environment since the refugees arrived [starting in 2003],” said Haroun Abdullahi with Adesk, a Chadian NGO that delivers wood to camps to spare women refugees the arduous and often perilous search for firewood.
“Today we have to drive more than 70km to find wood.” He said the NGO will likely have to shut down the programme next year. “We just cannot afford the petrol to make these long journeys.” And while residents used to rely on wood scattered around, or "dead wood", that is disappearing and people are increasingly chopping trees for fuel.
Ali Suleiman Daybe of Chad’s Environment Ministry said the country has lost an estimated 60 percent of its trees due to indiscriminate chopping for household fuel over the past few decades.
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UNHCR and its partners have collected and distributed firewood for refugees to avoid clashes over resources. But it is a short-term solution, and UNHCR and NGOs are exploring other ways to safeguard the environment while meeting people’s needs, including tree-planting and the use of solar and other energy-efficient cookers, UNHCR says.
The UN refugee agency says the lack of natural resources is one of the most serious problems facing the refugee and local populations in the east.
“It is a crisis because firewood is getting more and more scarce all the time,” UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson in Chad Måns Nyberg told IRIN. “With the refugees, the population in eastern Chad is too big for the [available] natural resources.”
He added: "The long-term solution of course is that the 250,000 refugees return home to Sudan."
Gayton Gambeni, head of UNHCR’s Iriba office, told IRIN: “There have been attacks on refugee women when they [go out searching] for wood, and water is also becoming increasingly scarce.
UNHCR’s Nyberg told IRIN that according to Sphere humanitarian standards people living in the camps should have access to 15 to 20 litres of water per person per day. In the three camps in Iriba – Iridimi, Touloum and Am Nabak – people usually have less than 10 litres.
Photo: Celeste Hicks/IRIN
|A woman using an energy-efficient cooker at a refugee camp in eastern Chad|
Iriba is 60km from the Chad-Sudan border. The region’s population doubled since the three camps – currently with 60,000 people – were set up.
UNHCR and aid groups – including Première Urgence - are planting trees in the region but more resources are needed to plant and properly protect and maintain the saplings, UNHCR says. NGOs are also teaching people to build mud stoves that require less wood.
NGOs working in the camps are trying to encourage refugees to use more energy-efficient cooking methods, but acceptance has been difficult.
The Chadian NGO Tchad Solaire employs six refugee women at Iridimi camp to produce simple solar cookers made of aluminium foil and cardboard.
But women in the camp told IRIN the cookers are slow – it takes up to an hour for water to boil – and they do not work in sandstorms, which are common.
“The solar stove is good only for tea,” Azar Bashir said, stoking a fire in an open mud hearth she also uses to cook. “The sun comes up at 6a.m., which means we cannot use it to prepare the children’s breakfast.”
Tchad Solaire has trained local women in building the solar cookers but does not have the resources to provide the necessary materials to local residents.
Iriba women waiting under a tree at the local market said the price of wood has tripled since the refugees arrived.
“Sometimes we have to wait for days for the wood to arrive,” resident Rowda Harun told IRIN. “We have nothing else for cooking.”