In solidarity with refugees on World Refugee Day

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A week on from World Refugee Day, explore IWMI’s work to support refugees and refugee hosting communities across the globe.

In 2024, millions of refugees are seeking sanctuary. Conflict, persecution, the climate crisis and environmental disaster are key players amongst a myriad of challenges contributing to fragility across the globe. Unable to remain in unsafe homes and homelands, some seek safety in host communities. Unfortunately, finding safe refuge can be a daunting endeavor; many refugees leave areas of turmoil only to arrive in regions that may also be at risk of conflict and instability. Vulnerability can be exacerbated when receiving communities struggle to meet the needs of both the displaced persons and hosts. These situations can be characterized as Fragile and Conflict-Affected settings (FCAS).

Despite these difficulties, World Refugee Day is a day of celebration.

In 2001, the world celebrated the very first World Refugee Day, with the 20th of June thereafter dedicated to championing the needs, aspirations, and resilience of refugees worldwide. World Refugee Day is a moment to reflect on the ongoing efforts to support refugees and tackle the challenges facing these vulnerable, but resilient, communities. As co-lead of CGIAR’s Fragility, Conflict, and Migration Initiative, IWMI is advancing water and climate resilience in communities hosting refugees.

Research is just one aspect of IWMI’s work to support vulnerable people; promoting resilience demands a multi-faceted approach. IWMI is analyzing vulnerability in FCAS in numerous countries, facilitating innovation, and providing support to implement solutions for FCAS. A crucial aspect of this multi-faceted approach is working collaboratively with other stakeholders. IWMI collaborates with the World Food Programme across diverse geographical contexts and initiatives to address vulnerability. These partnerships include offering direct technical assistance to WFP country offices with support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) to build solutions that meet nutritional requirements and develop resilience. IWMI also collaborates with the WFP Innovation Accelerator on the Stability and Peace Accelerator, supporting innovators to implement climate-smart solutions for people in FCAS.

The goal? To advance resilience in FCAS and champion the needs and strength of IDPs, refugees and their host communities.

Celebrate World Refugee Day by discovering the countries and projects where IWMI is making a positive impact on refugees and their host communities.

Jordan

Ensuring access to resilient water systems and healthy drinking water is essential to universal health. Unfortunately, water and climate stress are straining Jordanian refugee hosting communities. The impact of climate stress can be particularly damaging in Jordanian cities like Irbid and Ramtha.

Throughout the Middle East and North African Region, freshwater streams and rivers known as wadis, offer an economic lifeline to settlements situated along their banks. Unfortunately, the winter rains that once filled the wadi basins have grown increasingly erratic and intense, triggering powerful flash flooding.

Ramtha, located close to the Syrian border, hosts a significant refugee population with one third of its residents being Syrian refugees. Residents of Ramtha live along the banks of Wadi Al-Shiyah, facing recurring challenges when the winter rainfall causes the waterway to overflow. Bridges are flooded, transportation infrastructure damaged and access to public services disrupted. With children unable to go to school and the sick cut off from healthcare, Ramtha’s economy and the wellbeing of its inhabitants suffer.

Heavy winter rainfall in Ramtha is worsened by poor waste management. Solid waste clogs the basin and obstructs storm water drainage, further exacerbating flooding.

Ramtha’s Wadi Al Shiyah during the dry season. Andrew Cradford/IWMI.
The proximity of housing along the Wadi Al-Shiyah embarkment. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.
A resident of Ramtha stands in front of his home, indicating how high the flooding rose because of a blocked drainage culvert. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.
A resident of Ramtha stands in front of his home, indicating how high the flooding rose because of a blocked wadi culvert. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.
Asem Khazali, Ramtha Municipality Press Officer (left), discusses flood levels with two Ramtha residents. Flooding is a point of contention in the city as many members of the community feel they receive insufficient support. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.

To combat the impact of disaster events like flooding IWMI has been supporting the Jordanian Government by assessing water and climate related vulnerabilities. The research activity: ‘Anticipatory approaches in Host communities for Emergency preparedness and Disaster Mitigation’ explores the potential of anticipatory actions to improve the ability of refugee and host communities to withstand climate related challenges.

This research is essential to helping communities and local authorities mitigate the shock of events like flooding and is crucial to ensuring that resilient water systems can support the health and wellbeing of vulnerable communities. As a result, IWMI is helping to inform disaster preparedness, humanitarian response and climate adaptation planning in hosting communities like Ramtha.

Water Scarcity

Paradoxically, while flooding and the excess of water is a threat to Jordanian refugee and host communities, water scarcity poses an equally damaging challenge.

Agricultural land in Mafraq; the area is being excavated to create a ‘Mahafur’ — a rainwater collecting structure meant to store water and wet soil for livestock and crops. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.
A small reservoir is being used to irrigate olive trees to ensure they survive the dry season. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.
A small well; meant to capture water during the rainy season and provide water for livestock in the dry season. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.

To confront water scarcity and other food, land, and water system (FLWS) challenges, IWMI is collaborating to bring climate-smart innovations to Jordan in 2024. Innovative solutions, like one cost-effective residential and commercial solution that produces clean, drinkable water from the air, can reach more people through tailored support. By increasing the availability of water to residents and businesses, the goal is to advance resilience to water scarcity in settings where water systems are under stress.

Climate shocks and water scarcity are among Jordan’s significant challenges. There are an estimated 730,000 Syrian refugees and 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, and for the country to adequately support the growing population, there must be adequate food and water. Unfortunately, increased population density intensifies pressure on scarce resources, such as services and infrastructure, and strains agricultural livelihoods and businesses.

Crowded housing in Jerash Refugee Camp.
AL-Afrah flood-prone and densely populated area. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.
Crowded housing in Baqaa refugee camp.

In these densely populated urban environments, vertical farming offers a unique opportunity to grow food under space constraints. The practice of vertical farming utilizes indoor spaces, rooftops, balconies and small patches of urban land to grow crops. This non-conventional method of is a scalable solution being implemented in a few locations in the country. Beyond addressing dwindling resources and land constraints vertical farming can broaden participation in the agriculture sector, including for women managing households.

Refugee planting initiative in Souf Refugee camp; planting ornamental plants in containers and hanging grapevines over trellises. Planting in this context gives refugees ownership over their spaces whilst also providing shade, fruit, and the therapeutic benefit of access to green space. Andrew Adam Bradford/IWMI.

Nigeria

Outside of Jordan, WFP and IWMI are implementing a project in Adamawa state, Nigeria, to assess needs and develop solutions for communities impacted by conflict. The project, supported by Norad and titled ‘Vulnerabilities to changes in Water Systems in Conflict Affected Communities’ has identified conflict and climate change as the primary factors driving migration into the region. Agriculture is the main source of income and survival in Adamawa State, but climate change is contributing to the degradation of agricultural land, making farming less and less viable. the degradation of agricultural land makes farming less and less viable. While community members struggle to make ends meet, Adamawa State routinely hosts refugees escaping conflict in Cameroon and Niger, as well as internally displaced people (IDPs) fleeing conflict within Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the increase in population in an already fragile area dealing with the stress of water scarcity can threaten quality of life, making access to water and land a prize rather than a right. The struggle for water access is compounded by the threat of violence in the region, where inter-group conflict and insurgency limit access to land and other natural resources. As a result, there are close to 920,000 food insecure people in Adamawa State.

WFP is saving lives by addressing food insecurity in the region. To support of this effort, IWMI provides evidence showing varying levels of vulnerability to conflict and climate impacts across local government areas. This evidence highlights communities with the lowest vulnerability due to their strong adaptive capacity to deal with exposure to water conflicts and climate variability. This information then guides WFP in designing and implementing effective interventions for those most at risk from conflict and climate change impacts.

Dumna-Zerbu, Adamawa State, Nigeria. Dumna-Zerbu is situated in a state that hosts people internally displaced by conflict and climate change, as well as refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring countries. Joe Bala/IWMI.
Water point. Once a gathering point for all, now deserted. Clean water is a treasure in Dumna-Zerbu. Joe Bala/IWMI.
Malkohi, Adamawa State, Nigeria. The environment is everyone’s property, but an environment without water is hard to save. Joe Bala/IWMI.

Prosperity and self-reliance rely on regional peace and stability. In addition to an emphasis on conflict resolution and sustainable peacebuilding, anticipatory action and effective governance structures can facilitate a transformation away from vulnerability in Adamawa. By researching water-related challenges and identifying solutions to FLWS challenges in this fragile setting WFP and IWMI are advancing opportunities for vulnerable communities to feel confident in their ability to survive.

 Ethiopia

The Somali Region of Ethiopia hosts hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees who have fled political instability and conflictplacing significant strain on the region to meet the needs of both refugees and host communities. Unfortunately, environmental fragility, including frequent climate shocks like flooding and drought, severely affect livelihood security in the region. A harmful cycle of climate extremes and natural resource degradation exacerbated by population growth has been identified, which increases environmental, economic, and social risks to vulnerable communities.

Flooding inundates agricultural land during flooding in 2023. Radhika Singh/IWMI.
Irrigated farms affected by floods in Melika-Dida, Bokolmayo, Somali, Ethiopia. Wade Mekuria/IWMI.

In response, IWMI and WFP have partnered to confront the pressing water and climate challenges threatening the Ethiopian Somali region head-on. There is an urgent need to safeguard these refugee communities through improved preparedness and early warning systems, alongside nature-based solutions designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

One such solution is WFP’s plan to increase irrigated farming to meet local needs. However, recent flooding in Autumn 2023 highlighted the need for improved disaster preparedness through flood and drought early warning systems, local planning, and watershed management. With IWMI’s technical support, WFP is expanding anticipatory action and resilience programs in refugee and IDP hosting communities. The objective is to empower local people with the essential tools to withstand climate shocks and safeguard their own communities.

For this work to be sustainable and have long-term impact it requires local capacity to be strengthened to inclusively manage water and land resources. The WFP-IWMI partnership has developed a comprehensive approach to enhance resilience in Dolo Ado and Bolkomayo, serving as a proof of concept for scaling similar initiatives across the Somali Regional State and other humanitarian contexts in Ethiopia, and beyond.

Why is World Refugee Day Important?

As the climate crisis worsens and conflict flares across the globe, the need to support refugees and refugee hosting communities in marginalized regions and countries is essential. Given increased pressure on food, land, and water systems in refugee and hosting communities, adaptive solutions must be inclusive, reflecting diverse vulnerabilities across demographics and the need to improve resilience in a changing world. World Refugee Day is a chance to honor the resilience shown by vulnerable communities, including refugees and hosts, and to advocate for strategic preparedness strategies and climate finance to bolster their resilience.

IWMI is proud to partner with changemakers, including the WFP, to contribute to climate adaptation and resilience building among those who have been forced to flee in the face of conflict and climate change.


We would like to gratefully acknowledge the refugees and refugee hosting communities who generously shared their stories with IWMI researchers, as well as the support of our collaborators the World Food Programme, and from IWMI Andrew Adam Bradford (Jordan), Andrew Okem and Charity Osei-Amponsah (Nigeria), and Wolde Mekuria (Ethiopia) for providing research data and guidance for this photo story.

The CGIAR Initiative on Fragility, Conflict and Migration addresses challenges to livelihood, food, and climate security faced by some of the most vulnerable populations worldwide. The Initiative focuses on building climate resilience, promoting gender equity, and fostering social inclusion. For inquiries related to the FCM Initiative please contact Initiative co-lead Sandra Ruckstuhl, at s.ruckstuhl@cgiar.org. This story first appeared on the IWMI blog.

Top image: Man living in Dumna-Zerbu, Adamawa State, Nigeria; no one’s strength should be tested by a lack of water. Dinovate/Joe Bala for IWMI.

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