Solutions & Benefits

A shift in thinking is taking place, and this is matched by developments in technology, business models and on-the-ground experience globally. Heat, Light and Power for Refugees
Chatham House Report for the Moving Energy Initiative

More – and better – funding

Energy should be a higher priority for donors and host countries. Through changing the way energy is funded and delivered, donors and humanitarian agencies can gain greater value from initial investments by supporting and ‘de-risking’ private-sector investment, kick-starting local economies and boosting energy supply chains.

More data and information

Standardized data for energy supply, energy use, efficiency, costs and payment mechanisms are needed – especially in refugee camps, where humanitarian agencies can oversee the data-collection process.

Detailed research in different contexts and clear and timely dissemination of results will enable best practices to be shared quickly and widely.

The model developed by Chatham House demonstrates a clear financial incentive for sustainable energy interventions. Globally, simple interventions such as introducing cleaner and more efficient cooking stoves, and providing simple solar lanterns, could save around $323 million each year for refugees, after an initial capital investment of $335 million from humanitarian agencies. When considered alongside the potential health, livelihood and protection benefits, annual cost savings as high as this reveal the huge opportunity for the international community.

Refugees have consistently called for improved lighting to make them feel safer and increase their ability to read and study at night. Light Years Ahead: Innovative Technology for Better
Refugee Protection
, UNHCR (March 2012)

Create markets

Medium and long-term refugee populations should move quickly from handouts and emergency relief to self-reliance. The expertise to create clean and financially sustainable energy services can often be found in the private sector, so finding the right model for public–private partnerships and outsourcing services is critical.

By building on local markets and the entrepreneurship of displaced, as well as local, people, relevant solutions can often be quickly found and scaled up.

Engaging private-sector expertise
A growing number of
private-sector companies have developed sustainable energy services appropriate for low-income households. This expertise could be harnessed to benefit displaced communities.

Build in benefits for local and host societies

Displaced people and host communities should be included in decision-making on energy issues so that measures are aligned with the local context and are not seen as imposed from the outside.

Extending solutions to local populations
Energy solutions for refugees could be shared with host countries to boost energy access and security for all.

Promote rights

Host governments should consider the benefits of allowing refugees to work legally in host countries, shifting them into a more secure and formal economy, with benefits for all.

Encourage inclusion

Refugees should be included in national energy access targets and plans, allowing host nations to harness humanitarian and development funding to bolster national energy resilience.

Humanitarian organizations and donors should recognize that schemes that also benefit local communities, or contribute to a host country's wider development goals, are more likely to be adopted.

Migrants wait to board a bus to Mytilene port after receiving travel papers at the Moria processing centre on the island of Lesbos in Mytilene, Greece. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Sustainable energy for refugees can lead to:

Environmental benefits
Current levels of firewood consumption are unsustainable. Our study estimates that an area of forest equivalent to 49,000 football pitches is used each year to produce energy just for refugee camps. Improving the supply of sustainable energy would lessen this dependence on firewood and encourage more sustainable patterns of resource consumption. Clean cookstoves have produced demonstrable reductions in firewood use by refugee households, normally amounting to 30–70 per cent (Rebecca Gunning, 2015).
Security and protection
There is widespread documentation on the risk of sexual and gender-based violence faced by women and girls venturing outside camps. Using cleaner cooking technology reduces the amount of time that women and girls spend collecting firewood. But insecurity is also an issue inside camps. In Goudoubo refugee camp in Burkina Faso, 96 per cent of respondents to the MEI’s households survey, said public street lighting would be ‘very important’ or ‘important’. The same survey revealed that in only 4 per cent of households would females go out after dark.
Health benefits
The lack of reliable energy supply takes a serious toll on health. Open fires, candles, illegal electricity connections and the use of kerosene for lighting all present health and safety risks. Providing more reliable and better-quality cooking solutions can also help mitigate against negative coping strategies currently employed by refugees. For example, in Chad some 35 per cent of displaced households surveyed reported having to skip meals during the previous week because they did not have enough fuel with which to cook. In the same survey, 28 per cent of households reported undercooking meals in the same period for the same reason.
Livelihoods and resilience
Sustainable energy solutions may reduce the time that refugees spend collecting fuel. It may also lower the costs for refugee households and improve education opportunities. A survey of a three-month pilot study in an Ethiopian refugee camp found that introducing efficient cookstoves in 100 households reduced the total time spent collecting firewood from 1,659 hours to 732 hours per month.
Benefits for host populations
New delivery models that do not necessarily treat displaced people differently from locals can help to lower competition for similar services, reduce reliance on limited natural resources, and improve the livelihoods of both refugees and host communities. In Jordan’s Irbid province, for example, the Norwegian Refugee Council is working with local landlords to install solar water heaters in return for secure tenure and rent reductions for refugees. These projects are aimed at increasing the social acceptance of refugees by integrating host-community benefits.
Economic and energy security
Sustainable energy interventions can decrease the exposure of refugees to fuel price fluctuations, lower household costs and increase the operational lifetime of energy equipment. Refugee households currently spend a disproportionate amount of their incomes on energy. In the Dadaab camps, households were found to spend around 24 per cent of their monthly income on energy, compared to 4 per cent in the UK. Improved energy provision promises to reduce the financial burden on refugees.