As the number of displaced people increases, and aid budgets come under further pressure, the imperative to identify cost-effective and sustainable solutions for delivering energy to refugees is more pressing than ever.
This paper examines the issue of energy and displacement in detail, using insights from refugees in camps in Burkina Faso and Kenya. It seeks to promote a better understanding of their energy needs, priorities and preferences, and explores how increased access to energy might help to achieve lasting impact in the two camps surveyed. The paper is based on primary research from the Goudoubo camp in Burkina Faso and the Kakuma I camp in Kenya, but the analysis and conclusions are pertinent in the wider context of camps for forcibly displaced people.
There is a low level of energy access in the refugee camps of Kakuma I and Goudoubo, which contributes to poverty and hampers relief and development efforts. Trying to meet basic cooking, lighting and phone-charging needs is costly for refugees, consuming a significant share of stretched monthly budgets.
The predominant cooking solution consists of basic improved cookstoves burning wood and charcoal. The 'three-stone fire' method also remains commonplace. Three out of five families in Kakuma I report health problems due to smoke from cookstoves.
Street lighting is a high priority for residents, due to concerns about security and safety in camps. In Goudoubo, 86 per cent of survey respondents said that more household members would go out after dark if there were better public lighting.
A significant proportion of refugees would pay for cleaner and more efficient energy technologies, but many lack the financial resources required, and the development of markets for such products remains partially contingent on sustained financial support.
There is a need for a diversity of energy technologies that give varying levels and qualities of service; a 'one size fits all' approach is inappropriate if universal access to sustainable energy is to be achieved.
Clean cookstoves and fuels (LPG, ethanol, biogas, etc.) are in high demand, but require much greater investment if they are to be introduced at scale. Solid biomass and improved cookstoves will continue to be important cooking solutions in Kakuma I and Goudoubo, as well as in other refugee camps. A shift to more efficient cooking can be achieved at little or no extra cost for the significant proportion of people who still cook on three-stone fires.
Users of quality-verified household solar products spend dramatically less on light and power than do people using inferior technologies. Strong brand recognition and a high willingness to pay indicate a large market and a significant opportunity for the solar private sector.
Centralized electricity supply solutions - mini-grids or grid connections - are more economic than multiple standalone diesel generators. The current piecemeal and ad hoc approach, with each facility managing its own power supply, is inherently wasteful. Greater coordination among humanitarian clusters is required so that centralized solutions can be assessed, designed, financed and implemented.
Collecting data on energy expenditure and use, as well as quantification of the wide ranging impacts of improved technologies, is necessary to build a compelling case for investment in electricity infrastructure. In addition, engaging refugees on their needs, preferences and willingness to pay can improve the sustainability and impact of energy interventions.
Private-sector and market development approaches offer long-term, cost-effective solutions for refugees and can also benefit host communities. As the number of displaced people in the world increases, and as aid budgets come under further pressure, the imperative to identify cost-effective and sustainable solutions is more pressing than ever.