UN refugee agency turns to tree planting.

AuthorRenner, Michael

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has pledged to plant more than 9 million trees in areas of human displacement this year, enlisting both refugees and host communities to meet this goal. By distributing seedlings of various species in denuded areas, UNHCR hopes to plant more than 2.6 million trees in and around refugee camps in Tanzania, 1.7 million in Sudan, and 1.8 million in Ethiopia.


There were an estimated 8.4 million refugees worldwide in 2006, according to UNHCR, while the ranks of internally displaced persons (IDPs)--those who do not cross an international border--are estimated at between 20 and 24 million. Although some refugees and IDPs end up in urban settings, the majority find themselves in marginal regions of poor countries, where they have little choice but to cut and collect wood for shelter, lighting, and cooking, and to clear land for crops. This can result in serious deforestation and soil erosion that hurts both refugees and host communities, especially if large numbers of people arrive suddenly or are unable to return home for extended periods.

In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, some 2 million Rwandans who were marooned in neighboring countries for several months caused nearly irreparable environmental damage in parts of Tanzania and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC). Within nine months, refugees at the largest Tanzanian camp had to walk 12 kilometers to reach the nearest source of fuel wood. During the 27 months that the refugees squatted in DRC's Virunga National Park, a total of 113 square kilometers of forestland was affected, two-thirds...

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