On the edge of DR Congo's Virunga National Park is the Kiwanja camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), set up by the UN to shelter some of the thousands of people forced from their homes by conflict.

The residents rely heavily on charcoal for cooking, and inevitably much of the wood is taken illegally from the park. Used by over 95 per cent of the population, charcoal stands as the single biggest threat to the mountain gorillas, and other flora and fauna in the park. The search for fuel is also hugely dangerous for humans. Every day, women from Kiwanja run the risk of rape when they leave the camp to collect firewood.

The Congolese Wildlife Authority has set up a biomass briquette programme which aims to protect both the park and the camp residents by teaching women to make fuel briquettes from recyclable materials such as leaves, agricultural waste, scrap paper and sawdust. The briquettes, which are sold to local schools, hospitals and prisons, are cheaper than charcoal and proving to be just as effective. Teams of women can earn up to $40 a month making and selling briquettes.

The project has proved successful so far, and the next stage is to allow over 300,000 people in North Kivu to make the transition from charcoal to sustainable briquettes. This will provide an additional income for 7,500 people who might otherwise be involved in the charcoal trade that threatens the Virunga National Park.

Gelareh Darabi meets Balemba Balagizi, who manages the briquettes programme, and joins a group of women as they demonstrate how the fuel is made from waste materials.

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Source: Al Jazeera