Until now, the dwindling forests around Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh have provided the only source of cooking fuel for some 620,000 Rohingya refugees like Monowara and her family.

“We had to collect firewood. It took us the whole day,” the mother of five says. “It is dangerous. I was scared every time, every day.”

Over 730 tons of firewood is needed daily for cooking in Kutupalong – the equivalent of four football fields.

These figures are a problem on many levels: the environment, flood control, health, and the personal safety of refugees. Women and children are usually given the task of collecting firewood – hard and dangerous work that requires walking several kilometres daily, putting them at risk of sexual violence.

As well as being concerned for his wife and daughters’ safety, Monowara’s husband, Mostafa Kamal, highlights another worry common to families living in one-room bamboo and plastic shelters.

“The smoke was everywhere in the shelter. Everything was dirty,” Mostafa says.

“But, worst of all, the children were coughing all the time and their eyes burned. It was unbearable.”

Young children and women like Monowara are usually given the job of collecting firewood, putting them at risk of sexual violence. ©  UNHCR/R. Arnold

Dr Tayabur Rahman Chowdhury, who runs the hospital in Kutupalong, says the smoke is a major cause for concern.

“From all the medical problems we have here in the camp, the smoke-related issues are the most common.”

To ensure the health and safety of Rohingya families, UNHCR is providing over 200,000 households with fuel-efficient stoves and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders.

Since August, over 11,600 households have received a gas cylinder and stove – along with training on how to use them – meaning families like Monowara’s no longer have to make dangerous trips into the forest to collect firewood, or suffer the effects of smoke inhalation.

Many of the fuel-efficient stoves are made in the region, creating jobs and helping the local economy. As part of the scheme, every sixth stove and gas cylinder will be delivered to vulnerable Bangladeshi families in local communities hosting Rohingya refugees.

With a clean and safe source of energy, Monowara has a reduced workload and her children can turn their attention to school instead of collecting firewood.

“My children are healthy. I am so grateful,” a relieved Monowara says with a smile.

UNHCR is distributing stoves and LPG cylinders – a clean, safe and easy alternative to firewood that protects the environment, as well as the health of refugees. © UNHCR/R. Arnold

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