Over 90% of refugees in camps have little or no access to electricity. Around 80% are cooking with the most basic fuels available and live in near darkness after sunset. This poor state of energy affects health, wellbeing, household finances and livelihoods. At the same time, many of the countries hosting refugees are facing their own energy challenges and are looking for investments and technologies that can help their countries to escape energy poverty and build cleaner, more cost-effective energy systems.
If the humanitarian system is to address energy challenges, we need to unlock policy change. At an international multilateral level, this means explicitly recognizing the issue of sustainable energy for the forcibly displaced in global policy agendas. At agency level, it means incorporating energy considerations and best practice into core programming. And at national host country level, this means showing where sustainable energy solutions can contribute to national and local sustainable development objectives and facilitating the relevant aid and investment.
At National Level
All governments of countries hosting refugees will have policies or ambitions to reduce carbon emissions and scale up efficiency and renewable energy. Energy interventions will have the greatest chance of being accepted and supported if they are designed to support these national goals - whether this is in the form of moving people away from reliance on solid biomass, expanding access to electricity, reducing pollution and congestion, or even contributing to change in an overall energy system which lessens reliance on fuel imports gas and/or energy subsidies.
However, longer term solutions are viable only if host populations and governments support them and very often this can be problematic. For a start, many governments want to maintain that displaced populations living in their territory are only temporary residents and this may be reflected in the restrictions on permission to work, to move around the country and to upgrades camp infrastructure or shelters. Secondly, host populations and host governments often perceive refugees to be a drain on strained energy (and water) systems, or a competitor for finite local resources such as trees. But the relationship is complex, countries also benefit from the additional consumers, cheap labour and aid spending in the country. Energy is usually a part of this (firewood and charcoal markets and kerosene and diesel suppliers may all stand to lose from change in the energy system). Overcoming these problems requires understanding of the needs of local communities, and of the economic linkages between communities and displaced people and between the humanitarian agencies and larger suppliers.
At Agency Level
There is a shortage of energy expertise in the humanitarian system and no systematic approach to planning for or managing energy provision. The design of energy solutions is technical, complex and highly dependent on context. The humanitarian system lacks dedicated energy experts with the requisite skills and knowledge. This lack of technical capacity holds back coherent responses from agencies and means that energy is rarely given the priority it deserves.
Despite this, progress in several areas in enabling the conditions for change. The 2017/18 revisions to the SPHERE Handbook, the most enduring and frequently referenced handbook for humanitarian action, now feature energy concerns throughout and paint a much more holistic picture of how energy concerns should be integrated into humanitarian response. In addition to this, an increase in cash delivery mechanisms and pay-as-you-go financing models for energy businesses have enhanced the potential for markets. This has combined with the falling price of solar technology and affordable payment schemes to make sustainable energy options both more palatable and more affordable for displaced populations (and the agencies that serve them) than ever before.
At the International Level
On the international level, energy still has no formal place in the humanitarian cluster system and no-one has responsibility for ensuring that energy is delivered effectively or appropriately in humanitarian settings, or accountability for its costs.
However, across the planet, wider access to clean energy is a rising priority. This is crystallised in SDG 7 which commits countries to “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” for 2030. Refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) – now standing at over 65.5million - are amongst those most likely to be ‘left behind’ from these efforts. In order to address this, clear signals are needed from the most senior levels and several announcements, processes and policy changes are paving the way for progress. Multiple processes – including the World Humanitarian Summit, the Grand Bargain, and World Bank meetings and discussions around the ‘New Way of Working’ – have catalysed efforts to define, implement and measure new ways to address and prevent crises. The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) outline an explicit desire to ease pressures on host countries and enhance refugee self-reliance. To some extent this is being pioneered through the work of the response plans to the Syria Crisis in West Asia which specifically table development priorities alongside refugee needs requiring aid, including energy. Ongoing efforts to ease restrictions on refugees’ rights to work and access to land are crucial to the energy access conversation in protracted situations, and affect the ability to pay for and access energy services. The governments of Kenya and Uganda have provided refugees in their territory with the right to work and freedom of movement whilst the government of Jordan has agreed to the creation of 200,000 jobs for Syrian refugees. Visible examples of how clean energy investment and refugee self-reliance can create a virtuous circle of beneficial change in such host countries will be a powerful signal of what is possible in others.
In 2016 the Dutch government became the first government to include forcibly displaced people as part of their energy access targets; stating at the World Humanitarian Summit that: "We commit to reach 50 million people with access to energy by 2030, and will include a distinct target for refugees within this goal." In 2017 displaced people were mentioned for the first time in the 2017 Global Tracking Framework which is measuring progress towards achieving SDG 7.
Key stakeholders in this issue area include:
Displaced people, whose views on energy and energy practices needs to inform the level of attention and priority that energy is given in a given situation
Host communities, who will have been affected by the impact of the displacement crisis in a variety of ways. Their perceptions, needs and possible inequalities in comparison with services to the displaced group should not be ignored.
Humanitarian Agencies who will need to reform their own policies to give more prominence to energy.
Host governments, who will have set their own national energy targets and priorities and who are responsible for setting the legal limitations (and freedoms) that dictate how displaced people engage with energy, and the framework for facilitation or deployment of aid and investment.
Local organizations and development actors working for sustainability, efficiency and local market development who could be partners with valuable knowledge and experience to incorporate into humanitarian energy programming.
Private sector energy service expertise, local and international, who are interested in providing services and equipment in the humanitarian situations.
Donors and International financial institutions, who will be needed to incentivize investments and enable agencies to do things differently, potentially through new financial instruments and arrangements.
Today, more organizations and companies than ever before are interested in the humanitarian energy space. Governments globally are demonstrating unprecedented momentum to address energy access issues whilst migration continues to be a top foreign policy concern for many governments in the West. Therefore, we have a window of opportunity to influence the international policy agenda in ways that establish long-term mechanisms for better practice and policy around humanitarian energy.
In the long-term, energy assets that are delivered for refugee populations can also serve as a legacy asset for local communities. This is being pioneered in the solar farms at Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps, and also in the forthcoming ‘South Amman’ solar farm that will provide energy for urban refugees and the host communities that accommodate them. The concept of donor countries or other types of funding bodies investing in energy infrastructure that can serve refugees and act as a legacy asset can be tested outside of Jordan and outside of the Middle East and more work is needed to show the true benefits of such schemes and how they can help countries in the transition away from aid dependence. More needs to be done to enable humanitarian agencies to budget over several years /and or gain access to capital funds, that would allow them to invest or engage services for efficiency and renewable energy that would save money over the cost of their lifetime.
In the short-term, sustainable energy solutions have the potential to reduce environmental and social pressures (for example by reducing firewood consumption through use of better stoves and alternative fuels), create livelihood opportunities (for example having access to energy allows micro-businesses like barbers and tailors to operate machinery) and even create opportunities for local energy service companies to help meet the needs of displaced populations (for example by offering solar home systems to customers who have a proven willingness to pay for such technologies, building more climate-proof, efficient shelters or affordable green housing). All of this presents opportunities to collaborate with donors and implementing agencies on energy solutions that both meet the needs of displaced persons and respond to national sustainable development priorities.
But none of this can be achieved without the humanitarian system changing their approach to energy – devoting more attention and resources to the issue and engaging private sector expertise to make sure that any systems that are introduced are maintained and sustainably financed.
Questions for the Working Group
Working group sessions can be structured as follows:
Humanitarian policies and practice
- What do (different types of) humanitarian agencies need in order to develop and implement an effective energy strategy which incorporates energy considerations and improvements into their programming?
a) from outside
b) from within
- What areas of humanitarian agency policy change would have the greatest impact? What kind of cooperation/ funding/technical support is needed to achieve these changes?
- Does the current Implementing Partner system pose problems for effective energy delivery and use (e.g. lack of accountability over diesel, many small energy projects rather than designing at scale)? If so, what changes/better models are possible/under discussion?
- What are the key messages that the NGO community should be delivering to external audiences? How can we best communicate these key issues over the next 4/5/6 months?
Working with national governments and other local and development actors
- Can response plans – such as those rolled out in the Syrian refugee hosting countries – serve as a basis to propose energy win-wins to countries hosting long-term refugees? What would be needed to instigate this process? How can they best be geared towards the transition beyond aid-dependence?
- Are there ways that government agencies, development, private sector and humanitarian community can better share lessons and outcomes from the existing work that is taking place? How can we showcase best practices to accelerate and scale up action?
- What are the opportunities that should be considered for investing in energy as a way to build resilience for the host community/off-setting humanitarian energy footprint? What communications, information, partnerships could make these work best?
Donor policies and practice
- What changes do donor governments need to make to the way that they fund and make requests of the humanitarian system in order to enable the above?
- Can donor governments include forcibly displaced people in their overall energy access targets? This would entail greater cooperation between energy, humanitarian and climate leads, how can we promote this?
- How can this agenda influence longer-term processes such as SE4All and the Global Compact? Can we build humanitarian energy into these ambitions more explicitly?
Engaging the private sector
- What would better facilitate a greater number of experienced companies to offer the relevant energy services to the sector? What would private sector companies need from the sector?
- What are the specific challenges with allowing companies with the relevant expertise to provide energy services or infrastructure management in camp settings? How might these be overcome?
Mapping what next
Discussion to draw together links between sections and map out the order of a ‘to do list’ with ideal roles and responsibilities and offers of work within the group.
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 email@example.com. 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 Rob Bailey, Glada Lahn and Owen Grafham (Chatham House & Moving Energy Initiative), for Berlin Conference on “Energy for Displaced People: A Global Plan of Action for sustainable energy solutions in situations of displacement". December 2017