Energy and forced displacement


September 25th, 2017

Due to conflicts and environmental change, we are currently witnessing the highest number of displaced people since recorded history. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are over 65 million displaced people in the world, with more than 21 million living in refugee camps. This is the highest number of displaced people in recorded history.

Historically, the application of humanitarian principles of protection and assistance in contexts of forced displacement has focused on the provision of shelter, food, water, sanitation and health. But when people are displaced, they also leave their access to energy services behind. In fact, according to the Chatham House report: The Current State of Sustainable Energy Provision for Displaced Populations, 89% of displaced people living in spaces of temporary or prolonged displacement have no access to electricity at all. It is important to note that access to energy has been a missing pillar in the humanitarian response to forced displacement.

Practical Action has collaborated with the University of Edinburgh to address this gap through a project on humanitarian energy named; “Energy and Forced Displacement: A Qualitative Approach to Light, Heat and Power in Refugee Camps”, or Displaced Energy in short, which is funded by the UK Research Councils – ESRC and AHRC. This research project is in partnership with the Moving Energy Initiative (MEI) and the UNHCR. MEI is an initiative of the UNHCR, the Department for International Development (DFID), and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), alongside Chatham House – The Royal Institute for International Affairs, and international non-governmental organizations Practical Action and the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP). MEI aims to make sustainable energy provision a key part of responses to forced displacement and humanitarian emergency, by designing and piloting new approaches and models for sustainable energy provision among displaced populations.

The Displaced Energy Project is running simultaneously in Burkina Faso (Goudoubou Refugee Camp) and Kenya (Kakuma Refugee Camp). These sites have been selected because they allow the project to build directly on a quantitative survey of energy access undertaken for the MEI, and because they allow for a comparison of energy cultures. The project is informed by specialists in Social Anthropology and Design at the University of Edinburgh, and Practical Action’s energy researchers are currently collecting 50 case studies of everyday energy practices in the two camps. The Goudoubou refugee camp is located in the Sahel Region, Burkina Faso. Goudoubou hosts over 9,000 refugees. It grew out of political and military unrest that began in Mali in January 2012, which led to a mass exodus of civilians into Burkina Faso. Research by MEI has shown that a household in Goudoubou needs over 100 kilos of firewood per month for cooking alone. But in the camp each beneficiary receives just 12 kilos of firewood, and must buy or forage the rest of the firewood in the scarce environment.

Kakuma refugee camp is located in Turkana County, northwestern Kenya. The camp is home to approximately 180,000 refugees from neighbouring South Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, Congo and Ethiopia. Also in Kakuma, firewood is the main source of cooking fuel. Every month 10kg of firewood is distributed to the beneficiaries by the UNHCR and their local partners but, as in Goudoubou, distributed firewood meets less than 20% of the domestic energy needs of the households. A new and more sustainable approach to energy provision is therefore needed.

The objectives of the Displaced Energy Project are to inform future energy policy and practice in the humanitarian sector, and to establish new principals for the design and procurement of energy products and services.  The project uses qualitative research methods to assess in what ways refugees and host communities use and need light, heat and power. Furthermore, the Displaced Energy Project findings will be complimentary to the previously done quantitative MEI study dataset and will provide an even stronger grasp on the beneficiaries’ energy behaviours, needs, desires and routines. Dimensions that are essential, but often overlooked, when designing products, services and humanitarian responses that will actually fit into the beneficiaries’ life.

Through this project, Practical Action contributes to safe, reliable and sustainable energy solutions, which reduce the vulnerability of refugees and ultimately aid in the rebuilding of their lives.

By Anna Noëlle Okello and Robert Magori

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