The term “livelihoods” refers to the capabilities, assets and strategies that people use to make a living. Livelihood actors work with beneficiaries to enhance self-reliance through vocational training, income generating activities (IGAs), and other economic interventions.

In emergencies and crises, people usually flee their homes quickly and with few financial and material resources. In their new locations, they often have very few, if any, options for generating income so they turn to what is around them – natural resources – to survive. In most contexts, refugees are legally banned from working, which creates an overreliance on natural resource intensive livelihoods like collecting and selling firewood.

Women and children, predominantly girls, spend a significant amount of time and labor securing fuel for their own household energy needs and for income generation purposes. The drudgery of firewood collection not only limits the amount of time they have for engaging in safer, more productive activities such as farming or attending school, but it can also cause physical harm that prevents them from being able to take part in those alternative activities.

When access to energy resources is limited, families sometimes have no choice but to sell or trade their food rations to garner income or to pay for fuel, leaving them at risk for malnutrition and causing tensions within the family, including domestic violence stemming from disagreements over household economic priorities. When trading or selling food for fuel is not an option, such as in urban settings, households must either purchase fuel or go without eating. Purchasing fuel consumes a huge portion of household incomes, so families must often sacrifice one basic need for another.

A Somali refugee woman interviewed by the Women’s Refugee Commission in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya reported that she could earn approximately US $0.50 by selling the bundle of wood that she carries on her back. To find this much wood, she walks 4-5 kilometers outside of the camp – a task that can take as long as five hours and during which she risks being attacked.

Livelihood actors should work with communities to develop safer, more sustainable jobs to reduce dependence on fuel intensive ones. Where possible, it is particularly helpful if these jobs can include the production of alternative fuels and energy technologies, including fuel-efficient stoves and briquettes, or reforestation and other environmental management activities.