Working green to ensure a sustainable future for refugees and those affected by displacement

The devastating consequences of climate change and environmental degradation push more people towards displacement every day. In assisting refugees, internally displaced persons, or those who are forced to stay in the midst of uninhabitable conditions, we must greenify our operations, think regeneratively, and design responsibly.

Climate change and environmental degradation have redefined the humanitarian sector as we know it, with increasing evidence pointing to climate change as one of the most prominent triggers of internal displacement. And its effects on livelihoods are severe.

Rising temperatures are impacting productive landscapes, rising sea levels are likely to have a severe impact on island states and coastal communities, and extreme weather conditions, such as droughts and floods, are contributing to conflict and food insecurity.

Climate change and environmental degradation are threat multipliers

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported 33.4 million new internal displacements in 2019 alone, with over 24.9 million people fleeing due to natural disasters. Although not all these disasters can be linked to climate change directly, the effects of climate change and environmental degradation play a part in exasperating the challenges already faced by the displaced.

And while these numbers are unsettling, “climate change does not act in a vacuum. It is a threat multiplier which deepens vulnerabilities and inequalities,” as Dr. Caroline Zickgraf said during the Danish Refugee Council’s first Global Event on Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Displacement.

Climate change affects countries disproportionally and countries that are already facing social, political, environmental, economic, or demographic challenges are hit the hardest. These are often countries mostly affected by forced displacement in the first place. These challenges are, thus, aggravated with climate change, making the conditions for the internally displaced, refugees and host communities even more difficult, impacting women and girls even more acutely.  

Think green in humanitarian operations

The consequences of climate change and environmental degradation on displacement affected communities do not only have the potential to accelerate pre-existing conflicts over natural resources but may also deepen the communities’ vulnerabilities as livelihoods and living conditions worsen and trigger new conflicts.

For this reason, it is important to think green both in emergency and long-term humanitarian responses to adequately protect and support people affected by displacement. DRC strives to strengthen and expand its response and protection capacity for displacement-affected people to reach those who find themselves in challenging circumstances due to climate change and environmental degradation.

We do this by working with local communities and experts to adopt and promote regenerative approaches and circular economies from the very design phase of the initiative, be it an emergency or long-term response.

We do so by collaborating with local communities and stakeholders, and by consciously seeking to mitigate our carbon footprint through relevant environmental policies.

Some things we do in emergency situations might become long-term mistakes. It is at the point of emergency that we need to have this regenerative design thinking, even to the point of how we source the materials.

Natalie Topa, Regional Resilience and Livelihoods Coordinator for the East Africa and Great Lakes region

The Resilient Colline Project – an example to follow

When approaching the challenges posed by climate change and environmental degradation, DRC focuses on working with nature to restore its natural functions, as seen in the Resilient Colline Project in Burundi, benefitting both internally displaced persons, returnees and the host community.

By mimicking the natural functions of biology and waterflows in landscapes, DRC’s experts work with, learn from and train local communities to use permaculture-based design and the natural patterns and contours of the land to passively harvest water and rebuild living soils.

In doing so, both flood and drought are mitigated, the soil is deeply hydrated, and the destructive energy of the water is turned into production.

We turn destruction into production, moving extreme water events from floods into food

Natalie Topa, Regional Resilience and Livelihoods Coordinator for the East Africa and Great Lakes region

By approaching the issue regeneratively, the local community can increase their food security throughout the year and prevent the destructive potential of both the dry and wet season in the region. By introducing sustainable design, the communities become self-sufficient and circular, paving the way for a better future where water scarcity is a thing of the past. 

Restoring the Colline

DRC Burundi supports communities in Rutana province in hands-on permaculture-based design to restore the agroecosystem of an entire hill. This works to establish abundant and organic food systems while buffering communities from climate and ecological disasters. The effort is taken on at the household, farm, and landscape levels. By training and working with returnees, internally displaced people and the local community, the Resilient Colline project is now spreading to surrounding hills within the watershed and the techniques are being taken on by the Rutana community.

DRC Climate Action

Addressing the consequences of climate change and environmental degradation is vital in assisting forcibly displaced persons, both those who are displaced internally and beyond the borders of their home country. DRC strives to collaborate with communities, local officials, technical experts, academics, the private sector, and other practitioners to constantly grow and evolve our operations with climate change and environmental degradation in mind.

Regenerative thinking will ensure a greener future

Our regenerative work is based on three pillars:

  • Approaching every emergency response with a long-term Resilience Design lens.
  • Working in durable solutions so communities are buffered from extreme climate and weather events with thriving and organic food systems and livelihoods.
  • Restoring community agroecosystems in order to recover vital landscapes that support communities, livelihoods and the local ecology in a way that can curb root causes of displacement.

These three pillars are reflected in the ways in which we aid communities and livelihoods affected by climate change and environmental degradation. It is our aim to use a regenerative approach to ensure that these communities develop the resilience and independence necessary to successfully absorb shocks caused by changes in climate and environmental degradation, such as floods or droughts. In this way, we pave the way for a greener and more self-sufficient future for those affected.