Ongoing regional instability has led to the forced displacement of more than 1.3 million refugees and asylum-seekers to Uganda (as of October 2019), mostly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Somalia, making Uganda the largest refugee host country in Africa. This has resulted in the establishment or reopening of some of the world’s largest refugee settlements. The displacement has often been accompanied by environmental impacts, such as land degradation and forest depletion, and risk of competition with host communities over the use of natural resources.
Uganda’s forest resources play a key role, not only in sustaining significant biodiversity and providing essential ecosystem services, but also in supporting livelihoods, meeting the country’s high demand for energy in the form of firewood and charcoal, and enhancing resilience and adaptation capacity. Forest resources in refugee-hosting areas are at risk of exacerbated pressure on the environment, adding to existing pressures from high rates of agricultural expansion linked to population growth, underlying poverty, and limited resilience to climate shocks.
Given the large number of refugees who have received asylum in Uganda, and the diverse nature of their impacts on both the natural and social capital of the hosting districts, there is a need to develop comprehensive interventions for sustainable energy access and forest resource management, targeting both refugees and hosts. As part of a durable system of sustainable land management, well-planned forestry interventions, including afforestation, reforestation, and restoration, can ensure the longterm supply of woodfuel, timber, building materials, and other forest products, minimizing detrimental environmental impacts and facilitating sustainable development.
Uganda’s policy environment is supportive of improving the management of natural resources, and this presents an opportunity to address current barriers and enhance the resilience of people and their livelihoods, particularly where major resource degradation is occurring.
Building on a 2018 assessment of natural resource degradation in the refugee-hosting areas of northwestern Uganda, the World Bank commissioned the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to undertake a follow-on assessment of forest resource degradation in refugee-hosting areas in the west and southwest of the country1 , and to identify potential intervention options to mitigate pressure on forest resources, enhance sustainable woodfuel supply and contribute to resilience-building of both the displaced and host communities.
The area of interest (AoI) for the assessment was the ‘buffer zone’2 up to 5 km from the boundaries of the six settlements: Kyaka II, Kyangwali, Rwamwanja, Kiryandongo, Nakivale and Oruchinga. A wider AoI up to 15 km from the settlement boundaries was also assessed to understand dynamics within host communities. The assessment took place in May 2019 and used a combination of remote sensing around all six settlements, together with household survey at Kyaka II (Kyegegwa District) and Kyangwali (Kikuube District). In total, 688 refugee and host community households were surveyed.
The findings of both studies add to the evidence base for the World Bank/Government of Uganda (GoU) ‘Investing in Forests and Protected Areas for Climate-smart Development’ project. The findings may also guide other development partners’ support for programming energy and environment interventions.