Webinar on Cooking Energy in Displacement Setting - Summary

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Webinar on Cooking Energy in Displacement Settings – Landscaping

Date: 7 July 2021



A large number of refugee and displacement population still have little or no access to clean and adequate cooking solutions. In addition, the refugee crisis has also evolved from an emergency situation to a protracted crisis in many situations. Thus, the issue of cooking energy in displacement settings needs to be viewed as a long-term crisis that requires sustainable solutions. There is also a need to move the conversation from only “cookstoves” to “cooking system” for a holistic approach to addressing the cooking energy challenges in displacement settings.

By definition, a cooking system includes:

  • user: who decides when and how to use the cookstoves
  • cooking fuel: no cookstoves can run without fuel
  • Stove: designed to fit the available fuel and the food being cooked; includes a well-designed ventilation system and adapted to the cooking habits of the end-users.

Cooking energy is also multi-faceted as lack of access to cooking solutions has an impact on the environment as well as on health, economics and safety (of girls and women when they venture outside the camp for collecting firewood or potential conflicts with the host community for fuelwood gathering.) of the end-users.


This webinar had a diverse range of panelists from different sectors ranging from development organizations to humanitarian organizations, private sector, associations and refugee representatives. Each of the sector was chosen due to their crucial role in moving the humanitarian-energy nexus forward. Below is the short description of the sector and representative from those sectors:

  • Humanitarian organizations are the first on the ground during humanitarian crisis and are crucial for providing international protection and humanitarian assistance to refuges as well as host communities and other people of concern
    • UNHCR as a humanitarian organization has a strong protection mandate and access to cooking solutions is considered a basic right as well as a key objective to achieving its mandate
  • Development organizations have a long-term vision and target on solving systemic problems (e.g. energy access, poverty…) for sustainable development. They complement humanitarian organizations and focus on building markets and addressing root issues to avoid extended dependence on aid
  • GIZ ESDS Uganda is involved in a range of activities from market development for clean cooking solutions to working with governments for developing a refugee response plan
  • Private sectors are the foundations of any sustainable market and have vast experience in the off-grid RE sector. This experience can be leveraged to also accelerate growth in humanitarian-energy nexus for sustainable market development
  • Africa Clean Energy is the manufacturer and distributor of high-tech biomass cooking stoves with forced ventilation. It follows a data-driven approach for providing clean cooking solutions in humanitarian settings. Methods include referral program along with PAYGO
  • Association and networks help to catalyze the sector by proving ad-hoc technical experiences, lobbying and sharing of knowledge and experience. They are also crucial for voicing the needs of the private sector and shed light on opportunities/hurdles for private sector participation in humanitarian-energy nexus
  • Clean Cooking Alliance Ethiopia catalyzes policy and provides lobbying support for the organizations working in the clean cooking space
  • Refugee communities are the beneficiaries of all cooking interventions and thus, they need to be at the center for designing sustainable interventions as well as from a rights-based approach.
    • Joella Hangi, a refugee representative and activist, is strongly involved in promoting greater engagement of refugee communities in clean cooking interventions.

Challenges and opportunities

The key challenges and opportunities for the sector:

  • There is no-one-size-fits-all when it comes to cooking solutions and has to be adopted to local context. This requires adequate resources (both financial and human) for different activities along the cooking value chain i.e., determining technical feasibility to acceptability and adaptability of cookstoves in local conditions. However, in an emergency context, cookstoves have to be deployed on short notice. Thus, there is a need to collaborate withdifferent actors across the sector for leveraging resources for cookstoves interventions that can be deployed at a short-term notice as well as are designed for the local context. For this purpose, collaborating with locally designed cookstoves producers can be helpful for having appropriate technologies that are also usable to people coming from different areas. 
  • Market distortion from free handouts of cookstoves is pretty common in humanitarian settings. Often times, development partners are distributing the same kind of cookstoves or lighting products that are already available in the market, hindering the market development. Disposable income of displaced population is often low and thus, they are unable to afford the clean cooking solutions which are often high-value products. Innovative financing mechanisms such as PAYGO could help to bridge this gap but it also comes with additional challenges. E.g., the displaced population may be mobile and could move from one camp location to another without completing their PAYGO payment, resulting in default payment. Many of the camp locations also do not have a good telecommunication connection for using PAYGO. Counterfeit and cheap products also distort the market influencing the willingness to pay for good quality products. Hence, to move towards market-based approaches, there is a need for coordination between development/humanitarian actors so that the cookstoves donations do not contradict the already existing cookstoves markets.
  • The humanitarian-energy space is perceived as highly risky and thus the investment opportunities from traditional financial institutions for private sector are also sparse. Most of the energy projects funding is also short term (usually 1-2 years) and is not enough for market development.
  • Lack of ownership of the “clean cooking” topic in the humanitarian context. Focus has mostly been on “lighting” in the international dialogue. Specially for the issue of clean cooking in the refugee camp, it appears that no one is fully committed to making it their priority. The problem is connected to some implementing organizations whose major interest is in delivering food, and because food without cooking energy is unavoidable, the institutions are involved in some way and attempting to meet the need.
  • Absence of a comprehensive/all-encompassing policy: The Ethiopian National Energy Policy (draft) was issued in 2013 by the then Ministry of Water and Energy. This policy is not in force because it is yet to be approved by the Council of Ministers. The policy does not address directly minority and vulnerable groups and their special circumstances – these include vulnerable households living in degraded areas and refugees as well as Internally Displaced People (IDP) and host communities.

In addition: Global Strategy for Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) was developed by UNHCR in 2014. Despite very useful information and strategic directions to address the energy and environmental issues of refugees in the country, it has not been well communicated by relevant government stakeholders nor integrated to the national sector strategies. SAFE strategy should also be updated in light of the current national and international integration policies for refugees, and also need to be adopted into national energy sector strategy after indorsed by mandated sector organizations.

  • Lack of long-term investment in refugee themselves. Need for local integration and investment in capacity building of refugee communities. The target community should be at the heart of the cooking projects and should be consulted before and during the project intervention.
  • Dealing with facts is critical: We need to reconsider the stereotype that refugees are only there for a short time, despite the fact that this is a fact and many organizations are working to reduce the number of refugees through various strategies. We also need to investigate when and for how long the existing refugee camps have been there. The outcome will show that they have been there for more decades, even for more than a quarter-century. Although the past execution method has evolved slightly, one can observe modest adjustments or improvements, especially when looking into clean cooking services. This isn't going to get us any farther, and it won't help us see real progress. Stakeholders must work together to achieve their goals and there must be a strong knowledge management system. It is important to break out of business-as-usual approaches. 
  • Partnership/Synergy: Clean cook stoves address multiple interests from different sectors including energy, forestry, health, gender, agriculture, environmental and other others. However, efforts on development, promotion and marketing of Improved cookstoves/clean cooking solutions are less coordinated among the players. Partnership and cooperation would also help to raise and address policy and regulatory hurdles.
  • Unsustainable supply of energy sources such as ethanol and LPG has been big time challenges to implementers. Limitations with availability of foreign currency, and lack of priority or in relation to taxes levied on them are the main challenges. A good example could be ethanol. Pricing of clean cooking fuels such as ethanol and LPG, particularly in relation to taxes levied on them, needs to consider the wider national and global benefit in terms of the burden of disease due to Household Air Pollution.

Thus, there is no silver bullet for cooking energy in displacement settings. However, there is an opportunity and need for cross-sectoral collaboration between different actors such as humanitarian, development and private sector for addressing the challenges within the humanitarian cooking space.

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