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Heat, Light and Power for Refugees: Saving Lives, Reducing Costs - summary page


  • Energy use by displaced people is economically, environmentally and socially unsustainable. Children and women bear the greatest costs. In 2014 household energy use among forcibly displaced people amounted to around 3.5 million tonnes of oil equivalent at an estimated cost of $2.1 billion. This minimal energy use generates disproportionate emissions.
  • Improving access to cleaner and more modern energy solutions would reduce costs, cut emissions and save lives. The widespread introduction of improved cookstoves and basic solar lanterns could save $323 million a year in fuel costs in return for a one-time capital investment of $335 million for the equipment.
  • The barriers to a sustainable, healthier, more cost-effective system are not technological but institutional, operational and political.  There is a severe shortage of energy expertise in the humanitarian system and no systematic approach to planning for and managing energy provision. Political sensitivities in some cases prevent rational approaches.
  • Doing things differently can bring significant benefits for host countries. Energy investments help integrate displaced populations and provide a legacy asset for local communities. They can also contribute to national and local sustainable development objectives.

In its current form, energy provision to displaced people undermines the fundamental humanitarian aims of assistance.

Heat, Light and Power for Refugees Chatham House Report for the Moving Energy Initiative

Six imperatives for change

  • Incorporate sustainable energy access for displaced people into international, national and agency agendas. Humanitarian agencies should incorporate energy considerations into core programming for each stage of a humanitarian response.
  • Build the data. The humanitarian sector needs to collect and report disaggregated data on fuel use, energy practices and costs.
  • Coordinate national ambitions and humanitarian aims for mutual benefit. Energy access and other resource sustainability challenges should be considered areas for cooperation between host countries, international donors and humanitarian agencies.
  • Embed energy projects and accountability at the local level. The design of energy interventions must take into account the needs and capabilities of displaced and local communities and ensure that accountability for the performance of energy interventions lies with local providers and implementers.
  • Explore new delivery models. Energy provision for displaced people needs to move away from a model based on handouts and requires an overhaul of current procurement practices and standards.
  • Explore innovative funding models. Where possible, encourage the use of local markets to sustain and cultivate energy solutions, stress test mechanisms to allocate risks between public- and private-sector actors and consider linking large-scale camp energy infrastructure contracts to opportunities to expand services to nearby households. 

Download the report:

Heat, Light and Power for Refugees: Saving Lives, Reducing Costs

Chatham House Report | Glada Lahn and Owen Grafham | November 2015

Heat, Light and Power for Refugees: Saving Lives, Reducing Costs

Executive Summary