A million trees are to be planted in Ethiopia to fight deforestation around camps hosting hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees who rely almost entirely on wood for fuel, a United Nations agency said on Wednesday.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the trees would be planted on 150 hectares of land in Ethiopia’s western Gambella region to meet the growing refugee population’s demand for energy.
Almost 300,000 people, mostly women and children, have found shelter in Ethiopia since conflict erupted in South Sudan in December 2013.
Fires used by the refugees for cooking are fuelled almost entirely by chopped wood, putting considerable pressure on local forests, FAO energy and forestry expert Arturo Gianvenuti said.
“Imagine tens of thousands of people - the population of a small city - who suddenly arrive in a location and start using forest resources,” Gianvenuti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. “The impact is visible”.
The depletion of forests risks creating tensions with local communities and disrupting the ecosystem, as trees stabilize the climate, regulate water flows and provide shelter to numerous animal species, according to the FAO.
It also exposes refugee women to the risk of sexual abuse as they have to walk long distances in isolated areas to fetch firewood, Gianvenuti said.