Refugees and the environment concern

  • By Jean Pierre Bucyensenge
  • October 17, 2012
Kigeme refugee camp. The New Times / File.

NYAMAGABE –Environmental degradation is threatening the existence of Kigeme refugee camp.

This is happening a few months after the settlement was opened to Congolese refugees fleeing from the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo. The camp located in Nyamagabe district, in the southern part of the country is home to over 14000 Congolese refugees.

The camp covers about 28 hectares of land. Since the first group of refugees arrived at the camp in June last year, there have been signs of rapid environmental degradation.

And, there is a growing concern that what is regarded as a small impact might in the future result into a serious disaster. Rain water has started creating gullies across the camp due to lack of proper drainage channels.

“When it rains water from all the houses moves down the hill and people fear their houses might one day be swept away,” Chantal Uwamahoro, a refugee, told The New Times.

“Houses are constructed close to each other and rain water accumulates into a big stream. So, we fear for our safety,” added another refugee, only identified as Nyirambyeyi.

According to officials, the issue of environmental protection is one of the key concerns in the camp and the concerned authorities are working around the clock to avoid a potential human life loss now that the rainy season has started.

According to Neimah Warsame, the UNHCR country representative, all concerned parties are working together to find a lasting solution to the problem.

“It is a key concern for us, the government, UN Agencies and the various partners operating in this camp. We are working together to try and come up with a viable solution. Warsame told The New Times.

One of the solutions being envisaged includes the setting up of a water drainage system to channel water through out the camp and the involvement of refugees in the protection of the area.

Yaya Sidi Sackor, an official working with the American Refugee Committee (ARC), told this paper that they are studying ways of using pipes to channel all used water into trenches as a way of preventing it from eroding the land.

“We are also thinking of ways to harvest rain water to use it in homes. Sackor said.

During a field visit to the camp last Thursday, the Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs Gen Marcel Gatsinzi, called for a lasting solution to the issue of environmental degradation.

He advocated for the involvement of refugees in the process.

“The government is closely monitoring the situation but we cannot be successful without the involvement of the people living here,” he noted.

“We call on refugees to be sensitive about the issues of environmental management and take measures to protect the environment”.

Besides the issue of rain water, strong winds are also an issue of concern. The lack of trees on the hills housing the Kigeme camp has resulted into fears that strong winds might as well sweep away the structures accommodating refugees.

Aline Feza, a refugee, said over the recent past weeks some refugees have been compelled to abandon their houses “after strong winds carried away the weak roofing of their homes”.

“The wind is strong that some are gripped with fear and abandon their houses,” she said. “A few houses have even been blown away, compelling the occupants to seek shelter from their neighbours.”

And to solve this issue, authorities are planning to plant trees, including fruit trees, throughout the camp.

Yaya Sackor said: “Sometimes there are strong winds but are going to plant trees across the camp”.   The tree planting exercise will go hand in hand with the ‘greening’ initiative.

“Besides giving the camp a beautiful image, the greening exercise will also boost hygiene in the camp. Children will no longer ease themselves everywhere,” Yaya said.

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