Moving Energy Initiative: Sustainable Energy for Refugees and Displaced People

Chatham House is working with the UK Department for International Development, Energy 4 Impact, and a consortium of other expert organizations on a ground-breaking new project.

The project seeks to meet the energy needs of refugees and internally displaced persons in a manner that reduces costs, is safe, healthy and respectful; that also benefits host countries and communities; and where possible creates opportunities for income generation and knowledge transfer to tackle energy poverty and sustainability

View the Moving Energy Initiative microsite below.

Chatham House is part of the MEI collaboration with Energy 4 Impact, Practical Action, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Featured video

— Nashon Tado of the Norwegian Refugee Council provides an on-the-ground perspective on refugees' struggle for resources and security in camps in Kenya.

Why now?

There is limited policy and practice on sustainable and clean energy provision within the humanitarian community.This means that the energy needs of millions of displaced people are being met inadequately and inefficiently, and not through the most effective or carbon-efficient interventions.

Interventions are often ad-hoc, and have mainly focused on the distribution of clean cookstoves, solar lanterns and solar street lights. These interventions have given little consideration to the context of the displaced communities, often overlooking their cultural traditions, and collective capacities and needs as well as technological availability.

The project

In its first phase the Moving Energy Initiative set out to raise the level of knowledge about the current energy situation in contexts of displacement globally through desk and field research. This has culminated in the publication of a global level report, Heat, Light and Power for Refugees: Saving Lives, Reducing Costs, which assess the extent of the problem and identifies challenges and potential solutions.

Over the coming phases of the project, the MEI plans to continue generating momentum for change on a global level and to promote a ‘learning by doing’ approach through pilot projects in Jordan, Kenya and Burkina Faso. These local activities will aim to demonstrate new approaches on the ground, and will be geared towards delivering practical improvements in sustainable energy access for refugees and host communities.

Infographic of key stats relating to the Moving Energy Initiative

Infographic of key stats relating to the Moving Energy Initiative.

The case

Access to modern energy is a basic human need, but for displaced people access to safe, secure and reliable energy is often inadequate. Furthermore, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) overwhelmingly use traditional biomass (primarily firewood) and kerosene to cover their basic energy needs and this is unsafe, unhealthy and inefficient.

Sustainable energy solutions generate many benefits for camp inhabitants, hosts, camp operators, and for the environment.

Cut costs

Providing charcoal and running the diesel generators that often underpin the fuel needs of refugee camps is expensive. Significant costs are also expended to transport fuel to the remote locations in which camps are based. As a point of reference, a study for the US Army estimated that for every litre of fuel used in remote bases, six litres were expended to transport it. Results are likely to be similar in refugee camps. (USAEPI, 2006)

Release untapped potential

Sustainable energy initiatives can deliver benefits to refugee populations, enhancing safety, security, health and livelihoods. Reducing the time and distance that refugees travel to collect firewood frees additional time for livelihood activities, particularly among women and girls. A change of approach can transform the mindset about how camp residents are perceived – from ‘beneficiaries’ dependent on handouts – to agents able to choose, produce, consume and take part in the running of their own communities.

Reduce emissions

Current energy practices in refugee camps are often dirty, polluting and damaging to the surrounding environment. Huge emissions savings are possible through small changes, and fundamental reform of the energy environment in camps can unlock a range of additional environmental benefits.