“By the time we arrived here from South Sudan, there were trees all over this place. It was very hard to build houses and we had no option but to cut down the trees; that is why you see the place is now bear with no trees,” narrates Mr Ladu Mogis, a refugee in Village 3, Zone 2 in Bidibidi refugee Settlement- Yumbe district.
Ladu, who also doubles as the secretary for security in his village regrets that the after effect of cutting down trees in the name of construction and firewood purposes has left the environment where they live in great harm.
“We now realise that we are suffering because there are barely no trees even for shade,” he laments.
To a large extent, refugees in Uganda have been painted with the broad strokes of a burden to the host communities or sources of environment depletion or deforestation.
The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Danish Church Aid (DCA), among other partner organizations have developed different measures needed to negotiate for peaceful co-existence in settlements, combat the refugee crisis through dialogues and diplomacy and support the host communities.
Bidibidi refugee settlement was opened in 2016, and it majorly hosts refugees from South Sudan. The settlement sits on 250 square miles, with a population of 227,000.
The destruction of the environment cover has greatly contributed to climate change and the drastric weather change in the area.
This year, for many parts of the country which should have received rains about mid- March (including Bidibidi), the ground remained dry until the beginning of May. Uganda sweltered under the effects of global warming, reporting dried water sources, including lakes and rivers. Shallow boreholes too dried up; signaling that even the water-table had receded as a result of lack of surface water.
Mr Kwizera Benon, the Assistant Settlement Commandant in the OPM- Bidibidi says that the first thing government and other partners had to do was ensure a peaceful co-existence between refugees and host communities.
“We heard reports between 2016 and 2017 that there were complaints from both parties (refugees and host communities) because of the resources available and this was a threat of conflict,” states Mr Kwizera.
He adds that “The OPM works in collaboration with the local community, being aware that the settlement sits amidst the local host community. We as much ensure that there is collaboration and peaceful co-existence between refugees and the local community because if they are not at peace with each other, there would be a conflict.”
In order to simply service deliver to the refugees, the OPM together with UNHCR and other operating and implementation partners are currently working in 8 different sectors that include; Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Education, Health, Infrastructure, Livelihood, and, food and non-food items.
In a quest to fight climate change, UNHCR and the OPM, in conjunction with DCA have embarked on a drive to plant trees in over 500 hectors of land, located in different zones across Bidibidi.
The head of UNHCR sub office at Yumbe, Mr Thomas Faustiñi revealed that they are putting forward a collaboration approach with all the 47 partners dealing with refugees in Bidibidi settlement. These partners include OPM with other government organizations, International Non-Government Organizations and Community Based Organizations.
In planting of trees, Mr Faustiñi states that they are using a slow sensitization approach to enable all refugees embrace the idea of tree planting.
Mr Rogers Muyambi, the Environment and Energy manager at DCA, Yumbe Sub Office reveals that at the moment, DCA has provided 470,000 trees that have already been planted at household and community levels in both the refugee settlements and the community in all the 5 zones that form Bidibidi settlement.
“DCA has been running and supervising this project since January, and we expect to hand it over to individuals and community in December,” Muyambi states.
He further reveals that all the refugees and host community members who have been assisting in the clearance of land, weeding of already planted trees, among other assignments were paid in cash.
In Alunga village, Kululu sub county, which falls under Zone 3, Mr Ismael Alege has offered 50 acres of part of his land to DCA to plant trees and inter-cropping for refugees.
“To prepare for a better future of my family and the community, I started clearing this land during the dry season and DCA came to assist me with seedlings when rains returned in April,” Alunga narrates.
At about 3:00 pm on the day of this interview, Mr Alunga was in the garden with his family members and refugees tilling and clearing the ground in order to add more trees.
“In this same field, I have offered my brothers (refugees) to plant their food crops too meanwhile they also help weed where trees have been planted,” he narrates.
The campaign of tree planting does not only end with farmers; in Alaba Primary School located in Zone 2 of the settlement with a population of 3129 out of which, only 130 pupils are from the host community, there is a tree planting club where DCA and the school administration educate pupils about the value of tree planting and conservation of environment.
The head teacher of the school, Mr Fidel Adebo says it is his responsibility as a teacher to emphasize pupils to tell their parents the value of environment protection.
According to UNHCR, the world is facing the highest levels of displacement ever in history ever in history, with over 73 million people forced out of their homes by war, internal conflicts, drought or poor economies.
Bellow is a video feature on the measures taken in the conservation of environment in a refugee settlement in Bidibidi refugee settlement.