Top UN Officials Announce First Ever Guidance on Safe Cooking Fuel for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

Global Initiative Puts Fuel on Par with Food and Water as Urgent Needs in Humanitarian Assistance

Top United Nations officials, joined by the Women’s Refugee Commission, have announced an important policy development that will compel humanitarian agencies worldwide to treat refugees’ and internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) access to cooking fuel with the same level of urgency as food and water.

“The issue of safe fuel in refugee settings has not been systemically addressed – until now,” said Carolyn Makinson, Executive Director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, which has long recognized the need to fundamentally change the way the humanitarian community tackles the issue. “By taking this important step, humanitarian agencies will help reduce the risk of violence faced by millions of women and girls during firewood collection and lessen the harmful effects of indoor air pollution and environmental degradation.”

Vulnerable refugees and internally displaced women and girls are at risk of rape, beatings and murder when they leave camps to search for the wood they need to cook for their families, or to sell. Firewood burned inside the home releases toxic fumes that threaten the health of the entire family, and the mass cutting of trees leads to severe deforestation in already unstable environments. Further, the hours spent collecting fuel places huge burdens on women and children, impeding their ability to go to school and earn money.

A large and diverse group of humanitarian agencies, led by the Women’s Refugee Commission (working under the authority of a coalition called InterAction), World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), undertook an 18-month inter-agency effort to build an effective and holistic response to fuel needs in diverse settings around the world.

The launch of the guidance documents on safe access to cooking fuel for refugees and internally displaced persons will take place on April 30 at 6 p.m. at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations (871 UN Plaza) and will be hosted by Ambassador Dr. Martin Ney. In addition to Carolyn Makinson, speakers include: Sir John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Josette Sheeran, Executive Director, World Food Programme, and Sam Worthington, President and CEO, InterAction.

“It is an outrage that many thousands of girls and women must risk daily violence in order to simply cook food for their families,” said Josette Sheeran. “We are united in taking this critical step toward ensuring cooking alternatives that protect women from rape and maiming. WFP is exploring a variety of initiatives, including fuel-efficient stoves, to help hungry women cook relief food effectively and safely.”

“The guidance provided by the Task Force will help women and girls displaced by conflict meet their fuel needs while diminishing their exposure to sexual violence and other forms of harm,” said Antonio Guterres.

Two critical tools that will allow agencies to address these urgent needs will be presented and distributed at the launch. Created by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on Safe Access to Firewood and alternative Energy in Humanitarian Settings (IASC Task Force SAFE) and endorsed in Rome last November by the IASC Working Group, they are:
* A Matrix on agency roles and responsibilities for developing a coordinated fuel strategy. The Matrix defines the key fuel-related activities that must occur in order to achieve an effective fuel response in new and ongoing humanitarian crises.
* Decision Tree Diagrams on factors affecting the choice of fuel strategy – recognizing, for example, the difference in staple foods and cooking habits across different settings.

As part of the global initiative, 20,000 user-friendly posters and 10,000 flashdrives pre-loaded with background documents will be distributed to field offices of all major United Nations agencies and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations worldwide. Workshops for practitioners will be conducted in sites such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Sudan and Thailand.

“The guidance produced by IASC Task Force SAFE is critical,” said Sir John Holmes. “For the first time, all sectors of the humanitarian community have a framework for better understanding, undertaking and coordinating their activities. This means that displaced families will be able to cook their meals more safely.”

For more information on the Fuel and Firewood Initiative, go to: or


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