Environmental sustainability is key part of humanitarian work in dryland regions

Humanitarian interventions in the world’s dryland areas blighted by conflict must, in the context of the climate crisis, also address the environmental impacts of the conflicts such as those exacerbated by the forced displacement of people, according to a new policy brief released today on World Humanitarian Day 2022.

Produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), CGIAR and CARE, Doing no harm while doing good: Climate and conflict sensitivity in dryland humanitarian projects follows on the heels of the Global Report on Food Crises 2022, which revealed that 70 percent of people with crisis levels of acute food insecurity or worse were found in ten countries and territories located in dryland regions.

“On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day 2022, the focus is on taking action to support people in need, by all corners of society,” said Tiina Vähänen, Deputy Director of FAO’s Forestry Division. “Working together with local communities, humanitarian interventions must be more holistic so we can contribute to improved food security for people in need, while doing no harm to dryland environments and their tree resources.”

At a global level, the world’s drylands are important for both food security and mitigating climate change, supplying about 60 percent of the world’s food production and 50 percent of livestock while containing 27 percent of the the world’s forest area and storing 30 percent of soil organic carbon.

Key findings

The policy brief provides an in-depth analysis of three projects based in ecologically fragile areas hosting settlements of people in protracted displacement in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger and Uganda. It shows the fragility of ecosystems in humanitarian settings and explains how competition for natural resources in agrosilvopastoral areas often leads to conflict between host communities and displaced people.

It argues that humanitarian interventions should address the environmental impact of displaced populations, and that protection of dryland natural resources must be seen as a vital part of programme implementation. The report aims to provide decision makers with potential considerations in which a humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach can be reflected in humanitarian activities in ecologically fragile dryland environments.

The policy brief proposes integrating environmental concerns into interventions, including projects designed to target just one area of development. For example, interventions that target food security should include access to sustainable cooking energy to reduce the need for displaced populations to use or collect charcoal or woodfuel, triggering forest resource depletion, environmental conflict and sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls.

For this to happen, a baseline environmental assessment of local fuelwood, land, water, and other resources is necessary to inform project design and should be monitored throughout.

Actions to promote peace – and at a minimum to be conflict-sensitive – within humanitarian action, should be part of every intervention, even those not specifically targeted at conflict resolution, according to the policy brief.

Decisions need to be based on a sound understanding of the local context, and constant data collection, the policy brief underlines.

Humanitarian-development-peace nexus

The three projects reviewed by the policy brief are among 18 evaluated in a previous forestry discussion paper, entitled Deploying a humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach: Exploring, strengthening and reviving dryland ecosystems, which examined projects across dryland areas to highlight the importance of conflict sensitivity, climate change monitoring and resilience, promotion of food and nutrition security and attention to vulnerable people.

The context is one where, on a global scale, there has been an increase in the number of refugees and displaced people in situations of protracted displacement in fragile environments, often due to violent conflict, compounded by the impacts of climate change.

“Humanitarian assistance is undeniably essential to protect lives and promote livelihoods, but due to the unique nature of these fragile areas, environmental and peacebuilding concerns should be built into all interventions,” said Vähänen.

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