Paraffin stoves for Somali refugees in Dadaab keep women safe, and protect the environment

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Nuurta Faarax Mire

(ERGO) – Nurto Farah Mire, a Somali refugee, has been attacked seven times while going out to gather firewood for cooking on the outskirts of the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya. She feels lucky to have escaped being raped.

The 47-year-old now cooks at home for her family of 10 children using a paraffin-burning stove. She does not miss those frightening daily treks into the bush to collect wood.

“I used go out early in the morning to fetch firewood. The earliest time I could get back due to the distance was in the afternoon. The job was risky and also very tiring. Since I’ve been give the stove and gas [paraffin or kerosene], I can cook three times a day,” Nurto told Radio Ergo.

A local Kenyan NGO, Fafi Integrated Development Association (FAIDA), has been distributing the new stoves to 20,000 families since October, as part of an effort to reduce environmental damage from tree cutting and to quell conflict between refugees and host communities. There has been long standing conflict over resources in this arid part of Kenya since the refugee camps were set up more than 25 years ago.

The chore for women and girls of going out to fetch firewood in remote bushy areas has put them at risk of sexual attack. There has been a high incidence of rape in Dadaab.

Nurto also appreciate having more time on her hands.

“This stove is enough to satisfy my needs and I also have a chance to do other things as I save the time I used to spend fetching firewood,” she said.

Abdi Hassan of FAIDA said the stoves, funded by UNHCR, were given to each family along with 15 litres of paraffin. The families get a refill every month.

Isack Ibrahim, a refugee in Hagadera camp, has been fetching firewood using his donkey cart for over a decade. Since his family received a stove, he is happy to give up this job even though it means loss of an income.

“It saves time and reduces rape cases,” Isack said. “All those years I have been collecting was not out of choice but because the circumstance forced me to do so, as I could not allow my wife to go out alone to collect firewood with such security concerns.”

Local people have accused the Somali refugees of spoiling the environment by cutting trees for charcoal. They have also welcomed the distribution of the gas stoves as a good initiative.

Resident Abdi Sheikh Abdullahi, 52, recalls how the area was thickly forested before the arrival of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Dadaab. He said sections of the refugee population were engaged in unrestricted harvesting of trees and shrubs, which has led to serious socio-economic and environmental challenges.

“I do not expect that the trees will ever grow back the way they were before,” Abid said. “But the distribution of the stoves is at least part of a solution. The conflicts that have been recurring for the last 28 years were over deforestation.”

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