Women and children, especially girls, are typically responsible for cooking and often travel up to 20 kilometers into the bush to find firewood, making them vulnerable to violence and exploitation. This is especially true for refugees because food distributed by humanitarian agencies must be cooked before it can be eaten, but cooking fuel is rarely provided.
Through our SAFE Initiative, the Women's Refugee Commission reduces the vulnerability of displaced women and children to the many harmful consequences associated with the collection and use of cooking fuel—including gender-based violence (GBV) and respiratory illnesses caused by burning firewood and other solid fuels indoors. Our goal is for displaced women, children and families to have safe access to appropriate cooking fuel.
We have been working successfully since 2005 to put cooking fuel on the humanitarian agenda. The challenges associated with the collection, supply and use of cooking fuel span several sectors of humanitarian response and rarely fit neatly into the existing mandates of the United Nations (UN) agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on the ground. However, a comprehensive approach to this issue is necessary.
The Women's Refugee Commission spearheaded the creation of the InterAgency Standing Committee Task Force on Safe Access to Firewood and alternative Energy in Humanitarian Settings (SAFE task force). The SAFE task force brought together representatives from UN agencies and NGOs across the humanitarian response spectrum— including protection, health and environmental organizations—and was charged with developing a framework for the humanitarian community to effectively respond to cooking fuel needs.
The framework developed by the SAFE task force focuses on eight sectors: camp coordination & camp management; emergency shelter; environment & natural resource management; food & nutrition; health; information, education & communication; livelihoods, development & food security; and protection. Each of these sectors and their relationship with cooking fuel, including the key challenges and some proposed solutions, are discussed in more detail in the "issues" sections.
The SAFE task force created two critical tools for the humanitarian system aimed at ensuring the predictable development of holistic cooking fuel strategies in diverse regions around the world. A Matrix on Agency Roles and Responsibilities for ensuring a Coordinated, Multi-Sectoral Fuel Response in Humanitarian Settings, which defines the key fuel-related activities that must be implemented in order to achieve an effective fuel response in new and ongoing humanitarian crises. The Decision Trees Diagrams on Factors Affecting the Choice of Fuel Strategy in Humanitarian Settings, which address the different types of cooking fuel options that will be most appropriate in each specific emergency setting (the type of stove that would be most appropriate for Burmese refugees in Thailand to use for cooking rice is not necessarily the same type of stove that would be best-suited for displaced women stirring assida [porridge made from millet] in the Darfur region of Sudan, for example).
Both tools reflect the need for humanitarian actors to coordinate their fuel-related activities across all eight traditional response sectors. By doing so, sector can play its part to ensure that displaced women and girls have safe access to one of their most basic needs—cooking fuel—from the start of every emergency.