Coordination is vital in humanitarian aid. It results in fewer gaps and and duplication in humanitarian aid. “Good coordination,” notes the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), “strives for a needs-based, rather than capacity-driven, response. It aims to ensure a coherent and complementary approach, identifying ways to work together for better collective results.” The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) states:
At its best, coordination can eliminate gaps and duplication in service, determine an appropriate division of responsibility and establish a framework for information sharing, policy agreements, program collaboration and joint planning. Perhaps the greatest challenge to coordination is the inherent difficulty of identifying a common purpose and approach among agencies whose mandates, methods, resources and systems are diverse.
In the context of energy access in humanitarian settings, coordination is all the more important for two reasons. First, no formal mechanisms exist among UN or other international agencies to coordinate energy-related humanitarian interventions. Second, the issue of safe access to fuel and energy (SAFE) cuts across numerous sectors – health, food security, nutrition, protection, education, water and sanitation, telecommunications, and more. Moreover, it involves a broad set of actors, including humanitarian agencies, government representatives, the private sector, development professionals, technical experts, researchers, donors, investors, and others.
At present, energy-related assistance in humanitarian settings is still largely disparate – funded and implemented by individual agencies without reference to each other, to common strategies and principles, or to lessons learned in previous interventions. In recent years, however, the community of actors engaged in the nexus of energy and humanitarian aid has grown and cohered. The advent of SDG 7, combined with record levels of global displacement, presents an opportunity for this community to expand and improve energy programming in humanitarian settings by finding better ways to coordinate, collaborate, and share knowledge.
The challenges facing practitioners seeking to better coordinate energy interventions in humanitarian settings include (but are not limited to) the following:
Lack of a Formal Role
Although the need for energy impacts nearly every other sector in humanitarian aid (food security, health, etc.), and references to its importance date back over two decades, energy currently holds no formal role in the humanitarian system. It is not included in the Cluster Approach that is used for coordinating in non-refugee humanitarian emergencies. It is not a standard line item in the budgets of most major relief organizations, and it is frequently left out of strategic planning. It is neglected in key policy discourse, such as Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s - SG Report on the Outcome of the WHS.pdf -SG Report on the Outcome of the WHS.pdf report to the General Assembly on strengthening of the coordination of UN humanitarian and disaster relief assistance following the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.
In essence, there is simply no mandate to coordinate energy-related assistance. Consequently, it is up to individual agencies to coordinate their own activities. The Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) Humanitarian Working Group – a consortium of agencies working to facilitate a more coordinated, predictable, timely, and effective response to the fuel and energy needs of crisis-affected populations – acts as an informal central coordination mechanism for energy interventions in humanitarian emergencies, but its efforts are hampered by a lack of funding and trained, full time staff dedicated for this purpose.
As in any a resource-constrained environment, humanitarian practitioners must prioritize key issue areas to receive funding in annual budgets. Consequently, energy programming (where it exists) is usually sparsely funded, extra-budgetary, or is one of the first areas to be cut. As a result, even those humanitarian agencies who do independently include energy in their work – mostly notably UNHCR, the World Food Programme, and Mercy Corps – struggle to dedicate additional time to coordination efforts.
Within the humanitarian system, there also appears to be some level of “coordination fatigue.” In 2016, the SAFE Working Group applied to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) to become a formal Reference Group for energy in humanitarian aid, similar to those that currently exist for gender and urban assistance. The IASC declined the application, citing a desire to limit the number of IASC subsidiary bodies, although the importance of the issue was acknowledged, and the SAFE Working Group was encouraged continue its efforts.
Even in situations where there is a consensus on the need for an energy intervention, opinions on what kind of intervention is best differ, making coordination challenging.
Energy access is a broad, cross-cutting issue that encompasses a multiplicity of actors, technologies, and delivery approaches. Energy interventions can also be extremely sensitive to context, requiring additional assessment to determine the most appropriate solution for the population of concern. Each of these issues poses a challenge to coordination efforts. For example:
- Multiple actors: Humanitarian professionals make up only one component of the diverse set of stakeholders involved in designing and delivering energy interventions to crisis-affected people. Private companies, national & local governments, and technical experts are just a few of the potential stakeholders in any energy intervention (see Key Stakeholders below). Moreover, their respective roles and levels of engagement vary by location. This complicates the initial assessment of identifying key partners in coordination efforts.
- Existing markets: In cases where local markets exist for energy products and services, humanitarian organizations risk causing market disruption by importing products and providing them for free to crisis-affected people. It is therefore necessary to assess the potential for market disruption, coordinate with local actors who may be impacted, and find ways to collaborate.
- Duplication: In some long-established settlements of crisis affected people, such as refugee camps in Rwanda or Kenya, there are in fact a multitude of energy interventions, but (usually due to funding constraints) they are frequently small, short term, and only meet the needs of a small group of residents. In many cases, there is no coordinating body to assess or ensure that similar energy initiatives collaborate or share information. Consequently, lessons learned may not be applied to future projects and mistakes or failures may be repeated over time.
Another key challenge highlighted by numerous actors working on humanitarian energy projects is the difficulty of communicating and collaborating with other practitioners, both within and across organizations. This may partially stem from the lack of a formal role for energy in the humanitarian system; without that commitment, there is no mandate or established format for developing communication and information-sharing platforms specific to this issue. The SAFE Working Group has, since 2014, maintained a website containing resources, tools, and profiles of humanitarian energy projects worldwide, but until recently it was not possible for practitioners to interact with each other online or to post public queries. This is now possible through the ENERGYCoP platform hosted by the SAFE Working Group and the Sustainable Energy Technologies for Food Security (SET4Food) projectl; however, due to resource constraints, only one or two individuals are able to administrate the platform.
The existence of ENERGYCoP also does not solve larger issues of internet connectivity, which can be unreliable in remote rural areas where many field practitioners work. This makes it difficult for actors both within and between countries to coordinate in real time. Additionally some popular platforms for sharing and collaboration (e.g. Google Drive, Dropbox, or Twitter) are banned in a few countries. While these difficulties can be ameliorated over time through advances in technology and infrastructure, outreach, and/or the establishment of local coordinating bodies specific to energy, practitioners must also individually commit to using the communication tools established for humanitarian energy issues.
UN Agencies, chiefly UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These organizations have in-country presence world-wide and are among some of the largest implementers of energy access in humanitarian settings. They are also frequently (but not exclusively) involved in addressing or managing protracted crises. UNHCR in particular acts as the “gatekeeper” for interventions in formal refugee settlements.
International NGOs such as Mercy Corps, Oxfam, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Medecins sans Frontiers, COOPI, and International Lifeline Fund. Like UN agencies, these organizations also have multiple country offices and have, to some extent or another, previously incorporated energy into their humanitarian work. Some also frequently act as first responders in acute emergencies, conducting needs assessments that may determine what relief items are delivered where. Other entities in this category, such as Practical Action, GIZ, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Energy 4 Impact, and Project Gaia, do not have large humanitarian portfolios but support or implement discrete energy access projects in humanitarian settings. Depending on their specific interests, this latter group may act as natural connectors between humanitarian professionals and the private sector, academia, and other entities, which can be useful in coordination. Private Companies – the manufacturers and distributors engaged in producing energy products such as fuel, solar lamps, stoves, generators, and mini grids. These companies may be local or international, and historically have only engaged in humanitarian settings to the extent that agencies like those listed above are procuring their products for direct delivery to crisis-affected people. However, a growing number of private companies are now directly providing or selling their products and services to crisis-affected people. Pioneers in this approach include BBOXX, Little Sun, Schneider Electric, Inyenyeri, and others.
National & Local Governments may be major or minor stakeholders in a humanitarian crisis depending on the situation and the strength of the institutions. The Sphere Handbook, the most widely recognized set of standards and principles for humanitarian response, states that the primary responsibility to provide timely assistance and protection to the affected population rests with the state; therefore, it is preferable to work with local authorities when possible. Any energy intervention in a humanitarian setting will need to take into account national policies governing energy, fuel, and displaced people. Host governments also control taxes and duties that may be applied to imported products. Consequently, it is necessary to engage the relevant ministries and departments in coordination efforts. Relevant examples include the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) in Nepal, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Mining, Petroleum, and Natural Gas, and Rwanda’s Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), all of which were active partners in at least one humanitarian energy intervention within the past five years.
Funders – donors, investors, and other entities who provide the funding that supports current and future energy aid to crisis-affected people. While not typically engaged in the coordination of energy interventions, there is a good argument to be made for their greater inclusion. Better information sharing between and among funding agencies with similar priorities might help to reduce the duplication of pilot energy projects.
Research & Development (R&D) Organizations, such as engineering companies, universities, or publicly-funded laboratories, are not typically vital stakeholders in coordinating the delivery of energy aid, but many are invested in learning about interventions that have previously been tried, which can feed into energy product design. Therefore, it is very likely they would be interested in any information and/or assessments shared by a coordinating body or bodies. Some specific organizations in this area include Berkeley Air Monitoring Group, MIT D-Lab, Lincoln Labs, Politecnico di Milano, Chatham House, the University of Coventry, and others.
Given the cross-cutting nature of energy as an issue, there is still an open question as to the best way to raise the profile of energy access as a key issue in humanitarian settings and, by so doing, prompt agencies to include it as a formal priority in budgets and strategies. Options include encouraging and/or educating existing cluster groups to include energy issues where it is relevant to their work. During the Nepal 2015 earthquake, for example, WFP was able to facilitate the inclusion of cooking questions in rapid assessments conducted by the Food Security Cluster. Having a dedicated energy focal point present within each cluster group might be one way to promote this, if feasible. However, this approach (which is to be embedded in the cluster system) would only cover non-refugee emergencies. For refugee emergencies sectoral coordination groups vary by context, but a similar model could apply if agreed by UNHCR given their leadership role.
Another option to consider is the establishment of national or local-level working groups to coordinate humanitarian energy activities. The SAFE Humanitarian Working Group has advocated for this approach, and nascent working groups of this kind exist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. During the 4th Annual SAFE Workshop in December of 2017, practitioners from Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya made preliminary commitments to establish similar groups within their countries. Like the global SAFE Working Group, however, each of these groups is informal in nature and depends on voluntary participation.
The questions in the next session are designed to prompt members of this Working Area to consider this issue and others as they outline options for addressing the challenge areas noted above.
- What level of coordination should the community strive for in the context of a Global Plan of Action? (There is a spectrum including simple information sharing on assessments, plans, strategies etc; collaboration via joint assessments, problem solving and aligned responses; coordinated development of standards and guidelines; coordinated fundraising appeals; joint strategic planning in advance of crises; joint programming during crises)
- Who should be a part of coordination mechanisms for energy interventions in humanitarian crises?
- What skills, expertise and experiences are ideal /necessary for members of the coordination mechanism?
- Is there a need for a formalized central coordination mechanism for the provision of energy services in humanitarian crises? Why or why not?
- Does this need exist for both acute emergencies and protracted crises?
- What alternate or complementary coordination approaches might be considered and what are the benefits and drawbacks?
- Inclusion in existing coordination mechanisms, e.g. fuel and cookstoves to food security sector/cluster, heating/cooling to health sector/cluster, lighting to protection sector/cluster, etc.
- Establishment of national and/or local working groups to take on coordination at that level (this could be complementary to a global coordination mechanism)
- Which agency or organization, if any, is the most natural “lead” for the coordination of energy activities in humanitarian settings? Is that agency already invested in this issue?
- What are the differences in coordination needs between refugee vs. non-refugee related crises or sudden onset vs. protracted crises, if any? Should there be different coordination mechanisms for each?
- Assuming that dedicated funding for energy activities remains a rarity within most humanitarian organizations, how can we overcome the challenges of limited staff time and capacity to engage in coordination efforts?
- What lessons can we draw from existing and past coordination mechanisms and activities in the sector? (SAFE Working group experience in Nepal Earthquake, Bangladesh/Rohingya situation etc., SAFE working groups in countries)
Further Information on the Global Plan of Action
For more information or if you would like to be involved in the working groups, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to be notified about major developments relating to the Global Plan of Action, please sign up for the SAFE mailing list. For community discussions, we have set up a discussion forum on ENERGYCoP – a dedicated community of practice for stakeholders engaged in humanitarian energy.
This background paper was written by Kathleen Callaghy and Krista Riddley: Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, for Berlin Conference on “Energy for Displaced People: A Global Plan of Action for sustainable energy solutions in situations of displacement". December 20th 2017
- ↑ UN OCHA, “Cluster Coordination.” Accessed December 17, 2017. Available: https://www.unocha.org/legacy/what-we-do/coordination-tools/cluster-coordination
- ↑ IFRC, 2000, Disaster Preparedness Training Programme, p. 5.
- ↑ See Bellanca, Raffaella, 2014, “Sustainable Energy Provision Among Displaced Populations Policy and Practice,” Chatham House. p7.
- ↑ Note: Protection and assistance to refugees is coordinated and delivered through the Refugee Coordination Model (RCM). The presence or lack thereof of energy in this model has not been assessed.
- ↑ In March 2007, the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Force on Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy (IASC Task Force on SAFE) was established “to reduce exposure to violence, contribute to the protection of and ease the burden on those populations collecting wood in humanitarian settings worldwide, through solutions which will promote safe access to appropriate energy and reduce environmental impacts while ensuring accountability.” The Task Force’s mandate ended in 2009. Its work is has been independently and informally continued in the current SAFE Humanitarian Working Group.
- ↑ Sphere Handbook 2018, Draft 2, Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) 1, “Existing Capacity,” p. 6. “Intervention by other humanitarian actors should occur only if the affected population and/or the state have insufficient capacity or willingness to respond (particularly during the early stages of the response). Intervention may also be justified if the state or authorities actively discriminate against certain groups and/or people living in an affected area.”
- ↑ One frequent concern for energy interventions is whether or not the affected community is allowed to work and/or move freely within the host country. The Moving Energy Initiative provides a helpful summary of the energy and humanitarian policies in various host countries in Appendix D of its flagship report, Heat, Light and Power for Refugees: Saving Lives, Reducing Costs.