Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Energy Solutions with Both Humanitarian and Development Pay-Offs

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Energy Solutions with Both Humanitarian and Development Pay-Offs

Article excerpt

Energy services are essential to the most basic human needs. Whether for eating (fuel to cook), moving (fuel for transportation of people and goods), maintaining a liveable temperature (heating or cooling), education (light to read by) or earning a living (electricity to power homes and businesses), energy underpins almost all daily activities.

But people who have fled their homes due to conflict have special needs and face acute difficulties in obtaining energy services. These include long distances (from urban centres, public services and utilities), temporary forms of shelter, health problems, insecurity of settlements, lack of legal status, low and insecure incomes, and the need to communicate with relatives.

Recent research undertaken by Chatham House suggests that approximately 90% of displaced people in camps have minimal access to lighting and approximately 80% have only the absolute minimum amount of energy required for cooking.1 Negative coping strategies such as under- cooking of food or reducing the number of meals are commonplace for almost all displaced people - those living in rural and urban areas as well as those in camps.

Globally, forcibly displaced populations are overwhelmingly reliant on dirty and inefficient fuel sources, with a majority predominantly using firewood or charcoal. Although the per capita fuel use among forcibly displaced populations is small, the relative inefficiency of the fuel they are using means that much more has to be combusted and more emissions released in order to generate the same amount of energy. Deforestation is also a major problem for many regions hosting refugees.

These conditions have huge impacts on health and protection, especially for women and girls who often carry the greatest burden in terms of household cooking (indoor air pollution) and in going out to collect firewood (high risks of gender-based violence). Applying global estimates from the World Health Organization would suggest that some 20,000 displaced people die prematurely each year due to indoor air pollution. Médecins Sans Frontières have reported that 82% of 500 women and girls receiving treatment after sexual violence over one four-and-a-half-month period in South and West Darfur reported that the violence occurred when they left camps in search of firewood, water or animal fodder.2

Improving the way energy needs are met therefore has significant benefits for health, protection and livelihoods. So why has energy not been a greater focus before now?

What's the problem with energy?

A range of factors have contributed to energy's relatively low priority in humanitarian response. The first is underfunding for humanitarian crises in general. But beyond a lack of funds, energy has not been seen as of equal priority with other issues such as food, shelter and protection. This has resulted in a dearth of qualified personnel with the requisite technical skills. As a result, there is a system-wide failure to collect the kind of data that would be essential to implementing systematic energy planning in and around humanitarian crises.

Humanitarian agencies are, moreover, ill-equipped to respond to protracted crises, while energy infrastructure and sustainable financing schemes are likely to require a longer time frame. The approach of humanitarian organisations to energy management has most often followed a shortterm emergency approach. Products such as stoves or solar lanterns are distributed (almost always for free), with little attention paid to maintenance arrangements, cultural appropriateness, distribution mechanisms or the effects on local markets.

While a handout strategy of this nature may be the most appropriate response in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, refugee crises tend to be protracted, and many refugee settlements have grown into small cities. If energy planning is not taken into account in the initial humanitarian response, displaced people and the agencies serving them can end up locked into prohibitively expensive and inadequate energy practices. …

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