This article about energy access in refugees’ camps was written by Chhavi Sharma, International Programme Manager, Ashden – Climate Change Charity
COP26 may have put the climate crisis under the spotlight, but the world’s refugees still face life in the shadows.
Many of the planet’s 82 million displaced people go without clean and affordable energy. This makes using safe cookstoves, lamps, and mobile phones difficult or even impossible. Lack of money and resources is one reason why – but another is the marginalization of displaced people, who have often lost their rights along with their homes.
It’s vital that global efforts to promote universal energy access include solutions tailored to the needs of refugees. Outstanding innovation already exists, ready to be scaled up or to inspire similar efforts around the world.
Cold storage and clean cooking bring new opportunities
Solar Freeze, a Kenyan-owned-and-run company, offers cooling for food and medicine in Kakuma refugee camp. Its sustainable and affordable service has supported health clinics and small businesses, and 100 women and young people have received free technical training. The organization won the 2021 Ashden Award for Humanitarian Energy.
Solar Freeze was founded in 2016, offering affordable and sustainable cooling to farmers in Eastern Kenya through solar-powered cold rooms. Two years later it began work in Kakuma – a settlement of about 200,000 people, where access to clean and affordable energy is extremely limited.
Solar Freeze has developed a business model tailored to the needs of camp residents, offering people affordable cooling through small solar-powered freezers, as well as technical training that helps them find jobs connected to renewable energy. Lack of access to skills and education is a huge barrier facing displaced people – worldwide, only 9% of adolescent refugees attend secondary school.
In Kakuma, the company’s freezers are offered on a pay-as-you-go model that makes them affordable to a wide range of customers. These include health centers, where they are used to store vaccines and treatments for conditions including coronavirus, yellow fever, measles. Dog bites are a daily, and potentially fatal, risk in the camp – now it is easier to provide rabies medication.
Dutch organization SNV is also working in Kakuma, boosting the spread of clean energy products such as solar-powered lights. This work includes building demand for them through marketing campaigns and helping private sector companies meet that demand – with support for permits, staff training, and more. The organization was runner-up in the 2021 Ashden Award for Humanitarian Energy.
SNV has also set up a stove production unit. This makes cookstoves that produce less air pollution than the crude stoves and open fires often used around the camp. These protect people’s health and create work opportunities too.
Jane Peter Ariemo, a refugee from South Sudan, is one resident who earns a living making stoves. She is a single parent to two children and came to the camp seven years ago – but had not been able to work until she started producing cookstoves two years ago. She says: “I am usually so tired when I go home. I find it strenuous, but it is my only hope.”
Policymakers should break down barriers between refugees and host communities
Even pioneering solutions will only reach their true potential if policymakers tackle the marginalization of refugees and displaced people. Including these groups in their host country’s national assessments of energy needs, a tool used by the World Bank to allocate financial support, is one straightforward and achievable step. Frontline innovators have success when they bring refugees and host communities together – policymakers should do the same.
Supporting governments to guarantee the long-term future of refugee settlements is also vital to the development of clean infrastructures such as mini-grids and street lighting. While many settlements have existed for decades, they can be evacuated or destroyed at short notice, as happened at Rwanda’s Gihembe refugee camp last month.
A strengthening of refugees’ right to work can also accelerate the spread of clean energy. As SNV and Solar Freeze have shown, clean energy offers precious opportunities to boost skills and livelihoods, and enterprises and initiatives capitalizing on this are well placed to attract support from funders and camp communities. Ending the legal barriers that prevent refugees from working can unlock change.
With climate instability raising the risk of greater displacement in the decades ahead, many more refugees may be struggling to access clean and affordable energy. Tackling the issue demands international policy action, as well as support for frontline innovators. The case for climate justice has rarely been clearer.
In the cover picture: Sakina Kariba a refugee in the camp from the Democratic Republic of Congo was trained as a solar panel installer and now works freelance installing throughout the camp. Photo Credit: Ashden.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com.