Challenges

The average length of time as a refugee is 17 years. In many cases, the temporary status of refugee settlements inhibits more efficient energy solutions. Heat, Light and Power for Refugees
Chatham House Report for the Moving Energy Initiative

Not enough attention

Energy supply for refugees and displaced people is rarely at the top of the agenda for humanitarian groups or host countries. Food, shelter and medical care often take precedence. While these areas are part of the solution in improving the way that energy is delivered, a lack of focus on energy means that potentially better and more integrated solutions are being missed.

Not enough data

Humanitarian organizations rarely record their energy use in any standardized way. There is little reliable information about the cost of energy provision in displacement contexts.

Without accurate data, organizations that might otherwise see opportunities in this area are unable to develop cost–benefit analyses. We are therefore unable to know the true scale of the energy problem.

Without an institutionalized space for energy, no one is strongly motivated to advocate for funds and initiatives and no one is truly responsible for the performance of the sector as a whole. Raffaella Bellanca, Access to Energy Consultant

Not enough long-term funding

Annual budget cycles in the humanitarian world mean energy investments are often impossible to plan and fund.

Host countries often don’t want to acknowledge that displaced people will probably be with them for some time, so they are reluctant to make long-term investments that might create resentment in their own populations.

Not enough expertise

Energy is a complex technical field, and there is a serious shortage of expertise.

Knowledge is spread thinly across the sector, and there is no ‘cluster’ or institution mandated to meet energy needs in an emergency, as there is for water, food and shelter.

Humanitarian agencies also have to deal with the challenge of reducing their own energy costs. Data on the energy costs and usage for administration and operations by the humanitarian sector are not collected in any standardized way. The majority of operations rely on diesel generation. In the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, spending on camp administration and infrastructure accounts for approximately 20 per cent of energy spending every year. If every camp followed Dadaab’s pattern of diesel consumption per camp resident, around 59 million litres would be consumed globally each year to run refugee camps.

Status and rights

The uncertain status of refugees means that they are treated as temporary residents and rarely granted the rights or freedoms of host-country citizens. Yet energy services that are set up as relief measures for a short-term population tend to be relied upon for many years.

Furthermore, without the right to work and earn money in a host country, refugees are driven further into energy poverty.

Practical problems

Refugee settlements are often in hard-to-reach areas, far from towns and utilities. The security situation or terrain can make the provision of energy difficult.

Refugees cross the Greek-Macedonian border into Idomeni, Macedonia. (Photo by Michele Amoruso/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)