This article originally appeared on the Humanitarian Coalition’s Relief to Recovery blog, here.
The UNHCR has introduced and promoted the use of mud stoves and biomass briquettes in the Nakivale refugee camps in Uganda through its Briquette-Making Project, a simple innovation that is having a major impact for women and children in the camp.
Nakivale is the eight largest refugee camp in the world, and is approximately the size of Calcutta, with the majority of residents being of Congolese origin.
Women in the area typically cook on a traditional three-stone stove that is fueled by firewood. In an area that is suffering from deforestation, women and children are required to walk longer distances in search of fuel.
A briquette is a biofuel alternative for wood and charcoal. It is typically made of mud, agricultural residue and organic waste. The unit this project promotes is made of water, dried grass, mud and the trunks of banana trees. Once mixed, the briquette takes a few days to dry out, depending on specific weather conditions.
Gender and Environmental Benefits
Women living in Nakivale refugee camps were reported to walk five hours every day to collect the necessary firewood. During this daily walk, women and children were at an increased risk of being physically assaulted, robbed and raped. The danger of being raped in rural areas such as Nakivale is a genuine concern. Although statistics for gender-based violence in refugee camps are unclear, the 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey noted that 40 percent of Ugandan women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
Furthermore, 60 percent of women have experiences physical violence. These numbers are estimated to be higher than reported due to the culture of gender-based violence as well as acceptance and shame from victims that prevent them from coming forward. Women living in refugee camps and in rural areas had the highest reporting of gender based violence. In a 2005 UNICEF study, rape was considered a “normal” part of camp life.
The more environmentally friendly biomass briquettes and mud stoves have improved the quality of life for these women. Not only are fewer women making the dangerous trek in search of firewood, the mud briquettes also have two fire points, which make cooking much faster. In comparison to a traditional cooking stove, a mud stove produces minimal smoke and can retain heat for several hours, while also drastically reducing the required amount of fuel to cook a meal.
Environmentally, briquettes are making an impact. The Ugandan government has issued a ban on timber harvesting in the area to prevent further deforestation. However, this has had minimal effects because communities don’t have a viable alternative. UNHCR is hoping that briquettes will fit this gap.
Project Impact and Growth
Currently, this Canadian government funded project has been introduced to 200 households in Uganda’s largest refugee settlement. This equates to approximately 1000 people benefiting from a cleaner cooking heat source. The briquette making project will improve the air quality and overall environmental impact of the refugee settlement.
The project is seeking further expansion. At the end of 2013, UNHCR and its implementing partner, the Nsamizi Training Institute for Social Development, held demonstrations with 600 refugee families that covered how to make the mud stoves and the briquettes. Further expansion of the project could include briquettes becoming an income-generative activity for women refugees as mass production and usage become regular.