UNHCR launches global safe energy strategy to benefit millions

News Stories, 13 May 2014

© UNHCR/J.Maitem
Solar-powered lanterns like this one allow people in refugee camps to continue activities, including study, after night has fallen.

GENEVA, May 13 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday formally launched a global strategy to enable millions of uprooted people to have regular and reliable access to fuel and energy without threat to their lives or well-being.

With an initial focus on energy needs in camp situations, notably for cooking and lighting at night, the SAFE (Safe Access to Fuel and Energy) strategy will provide a cross-sectoral approach to energy planning.

"Safe access to fuel and energy stands at the intersection of so many things that are of concern to UNHCR from protection, to nutrition, to health, to the environment, to livelihoods to education," Steven Corliss, director of the UNHCR Division of Programme Support and Management, said at a presentation in Geneva with key partners, the UN Foundation and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

"Fuel and energy is a basic need, like food, water, shelter, health care, education, but it's not a need that's fully captured in our programmes," he noted, adding: "We're trying to affect a fundamental change in the way UNHCR thinks and programmes for fuel and energy, but we can't do that overnight."

Because of the cost implications of supplying fuel and access to all refugees, he said, UNHCR's approach had to be progressive. "We're going to start by focusing on refugee camps in 10 priority countries [Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Nepal, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda] five in 2014 and five in 2015.

In the first two years, the strategy will provide some 175,000 refugees with stoves and another 150,000 with solar-powered lanterns. In addition, 2,000 solar-powered street lights will be installed in households and communal areas.

"We are looking to improve lighting for security in refugee camps, so people can move around safely at night. At present when it's dark and a woman wants to go to the latrine, which may not be located next to her house, she puts herself at risk," Corliss said. Solar-powered lanterns also allow children to study after nightfall, improving their exam results.

The UN refugee agency will shape SAFE strategies for these pilot countries based on evidence and "very hard-headed assessments to establish the baseline situation and indicators that will allow us to monitor and measure the progress we are making. If we show results, then then we'll have a convincing case for changing the way we do business."

Corliss said cooperation with partners would be vital. UN Foundation board members, including Chief Executive Officer Kathy Calvin, founder, Ted Turner, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, attended Tuesday's presentation along with senior Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves executives.

"We cannot do it all alone. But fortunately, because domestic energy lies at the intersection of so many areas of concern … there is a tremendous amount of interest in this strategy, not just internally and not just from the humanitarian world, but also from the private sector and foundations and donor governments who believe this is extremely important," he stressed.

Radha Muthiah, executive director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, said in a statement that it would work closely with UNHCR to ensuring that the cooking and lighting energy needs of refugees and other vulnerable populations were met, and that these families have a better chance to lead productive, healthy lives. "We are committed to being a catalyst for energy technology innovation, public-private collaboration, and culturally-appropriate solutions for better energy access."

Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) is a global inter-agency initiative focused on supporting sustainable and safe access to appropriate energy for cooking, lighting and powering for affected populations in humanitarian contexts.

The collection, supply, and use of biomass fuel, mainly firewood and charcoal, in emergencies create myriads of risks for crisis-affected people and their environment. These risks also occur in protracted situations where displaced people rely on biomass fuel to cook their meals or for light and heat at night. Such risks include sexual and gender-based violence or assault during firewood collection, loss of livelihood and education opportunities, environmental degradation, and respiratory illnesses caused by household air pollution.



UNHCR's Energy Strategy




New arrivals in Ethiopia: Remote Dolo Ado becomes a safe haven for 10,000 Somalis fleeing violence

Since the beginning of this year an estimated 10,000 Somalis have crossed the border and sought shelter in Dolo Ado, a remote, sun-scorched and predominantly Somali corner of south-east Ethiopia. Most have fled insecurity, following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from south and central Somalia and the takeover of these areas by insurgent elements. At the peak of the influx in early February 2009, about 150 people were crossing the border each day.

In reponse, a UNHCR emergency team was sent to help run a transit centre in Dolo Ado. In addition, UNHCR dispatched convoys carrying emergency aid, including mosquito nets, blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets and plastic sheets. Relief efforts are being coordinated with other UN agencies and NGOs to ensure needs are being met.

Although a number of displaced Somalis within south and central Somalia have started to return, mainly to Mogadishu, many Somalis remain in Dolo Ado in need of protection. Given the poor prospects for repatriation in the foreseeable future, a camp is now under development and refugees are being screened.

New arrivals in Ethiopia: Remote Dolo Ado becomes a safe haven for 10,000 Somalis fleeing violence

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

After crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC, Edwige was transferred to Mole, a camp housing more than 13,000 refugees. In a bid to move on with her life and keep busy, she started to help others, assume a leadership role and take part in communal activities, including the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. She heads the women's committee, is engaged in efforts to combat sexual violence, and acts as a liaison officer at the health centre. She also teaches and runs a small business selling face creams. "I discovered that I'm not weak," said Edwige, who remains optimistic. She is sure that her country will come out of its nightmare and rebuild, and that she will one day become a human rights lawyer helping refugees.

American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

UNHCR staff are working with Government authorities, NGOs and volunteers on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesvos to receive cold, wet and fearful asylum seekers making landfall around the clock. They wrap them in thermal blankets and take them to warm, safe emergency accommodation at transit sites, with power and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Brighter Lives for RefugeesPlay video

Brighter Lives for Refugees

Thanks to IKEA Foundation's support, UNHCR is helping improve access to lighting, renewable energy solutions and primary education in refugee camps in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
UNHCR: Looking for Safe ShoresPlay video

UNHCR: Looking for Safe Shores

2014 has been a record year for movements by sea with desperate people take terrifying risks for the slimmest chance to reach safer lands.