Extending green energy solutions to refugee camps

Our energy system has grown to perpetuate global vast sustenance, but with this unchecked growth comes also vast injustices. The implications of a faulty energy system have to be considered from more than an economic perspective, but also in terms of moral and sustainability aspects. Climate change has reached the point where it has several negative social implications forcing people to make drastic changes in their everyday lives. One of the major threats of the climate-crisis is the steadily rising number of climate refugees. Environmental migration is said to reach 26.4 million people annually and the number is steadily growing due to growing populations and limited resources. Refugee camps provide a good example where issues such as the lack of access to energy and energy poverty arise. Placing more emphasis on the concepts of energy justice can help adequately meet the basic human needs of displaced populations among refugee camps.


The issue of energy injustice in refugee camps

During the past 30 years energy issues become to be more incorporated in humanitarian responses to improve the life of affected people. In the case of refugee camps, stress on the energy system is rising as the gap between the number of displaced people and the resources to meet their everyday needs is widening. Energy services are critical to meet the basic human rights of refugees, being necessary for cooking, lightening, heating and clean water. However, even to this day millions of displaced people lack access to safe and clean energy services, with up to 80% of the people living in refugee camps having limited or absolutely no access to energy. According to the World Health Organization, dependence on inefficient energy solutions such as traditional biomass (mostly charcoal and firewood) has caused the death of approximately 20,000 people living in camps due to respiratory and heart conditions. Camp and house fires are also common due to the use of kerosene lamps and illegal electricity connections. Moreover, there is an increased chance of women and girls facing sexual assault without adequate lighting in the camps.

More recent efforts have examined environmental concerns, market dynamics and innovation patterns of energy in displaced populations. Realising that alternative energy sources could provide a sustainable solution, there is now a growing number of initiatives to provide safe and modern energy resources for camps. Studies show, that improving access to alternative energy solutions would reduce costs, decrease emissions and improve the lives of displaced people. These new energy services have the potential to reduce environmental and social pressures while also creating new opportunities for local businesses. According to Chatham House, the household energy use among forcibly displaced people amounted to around 3.5 million tonnes of oil equivalent with an estimated cost of $2.1 billion. While the introduction of modern cookstoves and basic solar lanterns would cost only $323 million a year, in return for a one-time capital investment of $335 million for the equipment. The investment in this new equipment would allow a decrease of 11,38 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually compared to the current rates, with also reducing the costs by 85%.


Green energy alternatives in refugee camps

Solar panels, solar cooking units, solar lanterns, cookstoves are the most used alternative energy technologies in refugee camps. There are already a number of successful projects where the introduction of green energy solutions proved to be effective. For instance, UNHCR in collaboration with IKEA’s Brighter Life for Refugees campaign is now funding a solar farm for the camp of Azraq in Jordan. Azraq became the first refugee camp to be entirely powered by solar energy in 2017, providing sustainable energy for up to 20,000 Syrian refugees living in 5000 shelters across the camp. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in cooperation with Jordan University of Science and Technology has trained 16 engineers on the use and installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. The pilot project is designed to provide solar energy for Syrian schools and solar water heaters for residential buildings in return for guaranteeing reduced rents for refugees. The Moving Energy Initiative (MEI) is currently working on new approaches to provide sustainable energy access in humanitarian settings. Some of their initiatives in Kenya, Burkina Faso and Jordan aim to address these challenges by including the private sector and proposing market oriented solutions for low-carbon solutions. MEI was successful in installing solar systems in two primary healthcare clinics in Kenya as well as built a solar powered learning hub for the displaced communities living in the Kakuma camp. In the camp of Goudoubo (Burkina Faso) MEI installed a solar-powered water pump replacing a diesel based generator now providing clean drinking water. A solar-powered irrigation system for agricultural activities was also set up, providing livelihood for 150 households.

These new sustainable solutions help to better integrate the refugee communities, give new livelihood opportunities and allow them to live more dignified and safer lives. Sustainable energy projects can contribute to national and local sustainable development objectives and support wider access to energy, under the frame of Goal 7 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Dora Leitner 

DORADóra Leitner holds a degree in International Relations and Development Studies, and is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Sciences at Lund University. With a special interest in sustainable energy solutions and development challenges, Dora aspires to explore these questions through the lens of environmental justice and governance.