The cooking nightmare: Tales from Nakivale refugee settlement in Uganda

In March 2023, Epa Ndahimana conducted fieldwork in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda, shedding light on the challenges of energy access. Due to population growth and widespread deforestation, refugees and host communities face significant hurdles in accessing fuels to cook. While innovative solutions like biogas cooking systems offer some hope, the overall situation remains dire. More work is needed to support sustainable energy access for refugees and host communities.

UNITAR - Project Image
UNITAR - Project Image
UNITAR - Project Image

"On the evening of 20 March 2023, I arrive at Nakivale Refugee Settlement to conduct research for the Roadmaps for Energy Access in Displacement Settings (READS) program. 

It's been four years since I was last here. Life has been a rollercoaster since I left to wander around the world in search of educational opportunities. The state of the many hills and valleys that make up Nakivale show that the population has tremendously increased, with trading centres everywhere and deforestation visible wherever I look.   

I vividly remember 22 years ago when I first arrived in Nakivale as a refugee. Thick forests were everywhere, forest vegetation was green and abundant, and my childhood friends and I wandered around in the forests to collect deadwood for household cooking.  My childhood firewood adventures would be impossible now: there is no more deadwood to harvest for cooking needs, nor live trees to cut for charcoal and firewood.  

Cooking has become a nightmare and people need to cross the border into Tanzania to fetch charcoal. This poses a great security threat to the point of risking one’s life. One resident confided to me how his friend lost a motorbike in Tanzania and escaped with major injuries when he was caught moving charcoal across the border. It is not surprising that a 100 kg bag of charcoal here is more expensive than in the capital, Kampala.  As Nakivale residents struggle to find means to cook, some of them have taken matters into their own hands. "

This blog was written by Epa Ndahimana of the GPA Coordination Unit at UNITAR.

Last updated: 05/06/2023

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