A breath of fresh air to the refugees in Rwanda

Vincenza Ferrigno
01 March 2018
Belgium will contribute to improving the living conditions of thousands of refugees in the Kigeme camp in Rwanda. As the Kigeme camp is facing great difficulty and is entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, there could not have been a better time for the Belgian support.


A breath of fresh but mostly clean air

In the Rwandan Kigeme camp, hosting 19000 Congolese refugees or approximately 3500 families, many things are lacking, especially basic necessities. Among the essential things there is certainly food, but also firewood, the most commonly used fuel for cooking. However, smoke from firewood is particularly harmful, not only to the environment but also to the health and well-being of the refugees. Moreover cutting firewood amplifies the phenomenon of deforestation.

As a matter of fact, firewood is not only polluting, it is also a source of conflict and disputes, preoccupations and health problems (eye irritations and respiratory problems) for the residents of the camp. Emerance Gikundiro, who lives in the camp with her family, gives us a concrete example: ‘In the Congolese tradition, the task of fetching wood falls to young girls, but when they do so, they are harassed or attacked by residents of the surrounding areas.’ Another resident, Beatrice Akimana, adds: ‘Every day we have to make sure to find enough wood for cooking a meal, while already worrying about how we are going to cook the next one. Sometimes we have to skip a meal because we don't have enough wood!’

All these difficulties are real obstacles in everyday life and a real danger for the residents. That is why Belgium has decided to assist the refugees through funding and projects so as to enable them to live in better conditions and to participate in the sustainable development. To this end, Belgium, together with the UNHCR (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and Inyenyeri (a Rwandan private company), will launch a pilot project in the Rwandan camp to replace firewood, the cause of 4 million pollution victims every year, with a safer and more sustainable alternative: wood pellets.

The toxic emissions to which women and children had been exposed were reduced by 98% and the biomass required for cooking was also reduced by 80-90%.

In 2016, Inyenyeri and UNHCR introduced pellets and small pellet stoves to approximately one hundred families in the Kigeme camp. This solution seems to be particularly suited to the needs of the residents, who have noticed its effectiveness themselves. Indeed, the results were highly positive: the toxic emissions to which women and children had been exposed were reduced by 98% and the biomass required for cooking was also reduced by 80-90%. In other words, wood pellets led to less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and also less deforestation, as less wood is required. And that's not all, beside the fact that pellets can be purchased monthly, which eliminates any risk of harassment or aggression for young girls, they are also produced in Rwanda, which gives refugees the opportunity to find a job in the production or distribution chain. This is the reason why Belgium would like to extend this project, from a small group of refugees to the entire camp, starting from the first weeks of 2018.

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A food assistance that is vital

Yet, the Belgian contribution doesn’t stop there. Beside the contribution of half a million euro to the UNHCR for the wood pellets project, Belgium also donated one million euro to the World Food Programme (WFP), in order to provide food aid to the refugees. This contribution could not have been at a better time for the camp, as insufficient donations have already led to sharp cuts in food rations. As the camp entirely relies on humanitarian aid for its basic needs, refugees may see their food rations (which have been cut by 10% in November 2017 and by 25% in December 2017) be even more reduced until further contributions are received.

The Belgian support is therefore a breath of fresh air for the camp and for the organisations that provide assistance. For instance, this money has allowed the WFP to purchase maize and beans for the Burundian refugees in the camps and to distribute cash compensations to Congolese refugees for their own purchases in local markets. Most importantly, this contribution has helped the WFP provide fortified compound foods to the most vulnerable persons and in need of specific food, and to distribute more food to pregnant and breastfeeding women, to children under the age of five, and to people on AIDS or tuberculosis treatment.

For Jean-Pierre de Margerie (Country Director at the WFP), Belgium's support was indispensable to meet the needs of these refugees and the WFP is grateful for the ongoing commitment of Belgium to Rwanda and to all other countries around the world.

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