From seedling to shade, planting trees in the Bentiu PoC site
With sweltering heat—temperatures often over 40 degrees Celsius—and either extreme humidity or dust, life in the UN protection of civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, South Sudan, is harsh by any measure. 1.6 million square metres of land, while surrounded with trees and swamps, are bare out of necessity. With the congestion and large population – approximately 112,000 people displaced by the ongoing conflict – tree cover is hard to find as the need for space for shelters, clinics and other basic infrastructure has led to deforestation. The lack of trees has also led to increased wind speeds and further agitation of dust during the dry season.
As part of an effort to improve living conditions for the displaced population in Bentiu and take responsibility for leaving behind a healthy environment, IOM is implementing a small pilot project to develop a tree nursery in the site. Under the project, supported by the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) and the European Commission Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), IOM has produced 1,000 tree seedlings and saplings and already distributed over 300 to the community.
Koang Pech is the gardener working on the project: “We are cultivating local trees such as mango, guava, neem, dinkipesha, ban, keer, meth, lemon, bannes, powpow, dhuras, chokas, etc. Some of them can reach up to 25 metres. We are distributing baby trees to public facilities such as schools, clinics and communication centers. I am teaching people how to plant them, how to make the hole, how to plant it, how often to water it and so on…In the nursery, we first plant the seeds in discarded food bags with cow dung until they are ready for real soil.”
The initial distribution focuses on communal spaces; in the future, the tree nursery will integrate training on growing and planting to encourage participation at the household level.
“Trees near clinics and schools will help with the heat and provide shade when the sun is high up. When the tree is big enough, kids can have classes outside under its shade. People will be happy,” Koang explains. “When the baby trees grow, they will give to the community relief from the heat, shade to rest and a place to meet friends. Some trees will give them fruits like guava and mango, and direction. You know, it is easier to find your way around when you recognize a tree, you can see it from far away. When there are enough trees, they will attract the rain, this is how nature works.”