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Bringing green energy and better buildings to refugees

Refugee tents of IDP camp in Irag

•   90% of families in camps have no access to electricity - 2015 report
•   "Access to sustainable energy is a basic human need" - UNHCR
•   Ikea Foundation helping with alternatives in Better Shelter campaign 

Renewable energy is being put to work in helping to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time – the global refugee crisis. 

A report by from a consortium of experts last year suggested that refugees' energy use had been neglected, with 90 per cent of families in camps having no access to electricity. 

Global energy's 'grey area'

One of the authors of the report, Chatham House senior research fellow Glada Lahn, said: “These displaced people and refugees are part of the 2.9 billion living in energy poverty around the world, but the sustainable development goals and the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative didn’t mention them. They are a grey area.”

Widespread introduction of efficient cook stoves and basic solar lanterns could save £212m a year in fuel costs, says the report. Such a move would not come without considerable financial backing, however, and the authors suggested that the response-led approach of agencies involved in supporting refugees is currently hindering such long-term strategic investment.

Getting the basics right

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has strongly stated that access to sustainable energy is a basic human need, and as such, looks to bring alternative fuels and solar energy to support displaced people wherever possible. 

Maintaining a semblance of normal life is a hard thing to do when you've had to move far away from home, but solar lamps can help people study at night, while off-grid street lighting is an invaluable component in ensuring safety in the darkness. 

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A flat-packed solution?

While you'd probably expect international organisations to be making better, safer conditions for refugees a priority, you might not think a global furniture brand would be doing the same. 

But the Ikea Foundation is involved with the Better Shelter project, which provides more durable, flat-pack alternatives to canvas tents in refugee camps. 

The shelters have come into their most prominent use during the current movement of displaced Syrian people into Greece, and feature solar panels on the roof to power LED lights or charge phones, as well as offering other advantages which promote safety and dignity; not least, door locks. 

The foundation also ran the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, which saw one Euro donated for every bulb or lamp sold in Ikea stores. This led to €30.8 million being donated to the UNHCR to invest in light and renewable energy at refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. 

Innovation on the ground

It's not just the charitable arms of multinational companies and global NGOs that are stepping in to do their bit in ensuring decent living conditions for refugees – with the help of renewable energy. Some innovative camp residents are doing it for themselves. 

Jihad, who lives at the Azraq camp in Jordan, has built a windmill out of a dynamo bought at a local market, a wooden pole, sheet metal and some telephone wire, using only a pair of nail scissors and a pair of pliers as tools. The DIY set-up powers lighting in his family's dwelling and a communal toilet. 

It's clear that while the situation for the majority of the world's 15 million refugees is perilous, there are options available to help improve conditions and life chances. Sustainable energy sources could be a starting point to creating a decent, basic standard of living in refugee camps. 

While there are some notable examples of creative approaches that have made a difference, much more needs to be done before a more positive picture emerges out of this trying time. 

Share your thoughts with us - leave a comment below, or send us a tweet @EnergySvgTrust.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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I found this report very interesting indeed and think big companies, wealthy people could do a lot more to invest in renewable energy especially batteries to store energy from the sun on their roof.
There are millions and millions of homes in this country alone where solar panels and storage batteries would assist poorer families and cut down global warming.