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Revolutionizing Power in Refugee Camps Could Save Lives and Money

  • Henry Ridgwell

Millions of dollars and thousands of lives could be saved by overhauling the way energy is provided to refugee camps, according to a new report. The researchers aim to generate private sector interest in bringing new technologies to some of the world’s most desperate people.

The global displacement of people has reached its highest ever level. According to the United Nations, 59.5 million people have been forced to leave their homes.

Refugee camps are swelling in size, and the resources to keep them running are often scarce.

The newly formed Moving Energy Initiative, a collaboration between humanitarian organizations, is calling for an overhaul in the way energy is supplied and used in camps. Glada Lahn is from British policy group Chatham House, which is part of the Initiative.

“We believe there is huge opportunity to both improve the lives and livelihoods of these very vulnerable people and also help to save money over the long term," said Lahn.

The most recent electricity bill for Jordan’s Zaatari camp on the Syrian border came to $8.7 million, forcing the U.N. to cut improvised connections. But 90 percent of people living in camps have no access to electricity, 80 percent rely on firewood for cooking.

“Given more efficient cook stoves and solar lanterns, for instance, there could be a saving we estimated at $323 million per year, which would pay off the initial investment fairly quickly. There are even better solutions, once you start involving solar or solar hybrid mini-grids, other forms of renewable energy," she said.

Researchers estimate that 20,000 refugees die prematurely every year due to the pollution from indoor fires for cooking.

Gathering the fuel can also be dangerous, especially for women.

“Women do not want to leave the tent or the hut at nighttime if there is no lighting. If they do, they are at risk of accidents and also attacks. Similarly, we heard so many cases of women and girls leaving the camps to collect firewood and being at risk from rape and other types of attack," said Lahn.

Lahn said host countries are often reluctant to provide facilities that appear permanent. But researchers say that using green technologies could save lives and radically improve living standards for the world’s most vulnerable people.

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