Does UNECE contribute to humanitarian work?
Though the work of UNECE is largely technical, its tools and methods can also make a difference in the humanitarian world, in ways we might not expect. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was able to use UNECE tools and methods to assess how refugee camps are adapting to extreme weather events like drought and floods and how UNHCR can mainstream Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (CCA/DRR) into refugee operations.
At UNHCR mainstreaming environment into refugee operations has been a gradual endeavour. Coming after higher priorities such as nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation, environmental protection and awareness is nonetheless essential for UNHCR to minimize the environmental impact of refugee camps on the host country. This involves domestic and household energy supply, for example, through fuel-efficient stoves and solar cookers and lighting for camps. Energy access for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is a protection issue as well, as refugees without sufficient firewood for cooking are forced to venture outside the camp to search for fuel in high-risk areas.
In 2011-2012, I was recruited to develop an organization-wide strategy for UNHCR to mainstream CCA/DRR into refugee and IDP operations in East Africa. Through targeted assessment missions, drawing on the methodology of the UNECE Environmental Performance Reviews (EPRs), I interviewed Government officials in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania on their level of preparedness and contingency planning for climate change. Borrowing from the UNECE Water Convention, I adapted the “Check-list for self-assessment of progress made on climate change in water and sanitation” to the refugee situation and used this in conducting focus group discussions with camp managers, refugee and host community leaders. Moreover, the cross-sectoral policy approach pursued in many ECE activities, e.g., the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP), was essential in conducting a thorough review and assessment of CCA/DRR for UNHCR field operations.
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