Strengthening resilience of refugee communities with sustainable energy access

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Photo: Greenlight Planet

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruptions around the world, severely impacting healthcare systems, families, and economies. With billions of people confined to their homes, it has reminded us of our basic needs – access to reliable information and the ability to connect with our loved ones. To meet these needs, we know we need access to reliable energy. Yet, today almost a billion people are facing the pandemic and its aftershocks without it – and some of them don’t even have a permanent home.

Today, on World Humanitarian Day, let us talk about displaced people and how energy access can improve their lives.

In 2019, almost 79.5 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced from their homes people due to war, conflict, or disaster. Often living in densely populated camps and settlements, they have a higher risk to contract the virus. The lack of reliable energy access to power health facilities makes them even more vulnerable.

Role of energy access in fighting a pandemic

As a sector, we know that off-grid solar plays an important role in boosting the resilience of people and communities – with increased incomes and employment opportunities, improved quality of life, and reduced indoor air pollution.

We also know that off-grid solar and energy access is directly and positively impacting at least 10 SDGs, putting it at the center of humanitarian and development aid.

With an increased demand for medical care, especially during the pandemic, healthcare systems, alongside isolation and quarantine facilities without reliable energy access will be rendered ineffective. The inability to power medical equipment and refrigerators on a continuous basis puts these communities at a larger risk.

While humanitarian camps and settlements are meant to serve as temporary shelter for the displaced, many people often end up living there for years. As the number of these settlements grows across the world, energy access infrastructure in humanitarian aid is now more important than ever.

Electricity also helps power mobile phones, radios, and TVs, keeping displaced people in camps and settlements constantly updated on important information, especially related to public health. The free flow of information makes these communities resilient, especially during the ongoing pandemic. It helps them stay in touch with their loved ones across the world – another basic need that goes a long in way in improving their quality of life.

That’s why governments and the humanitarian sector are increasingly asking businesses to help develop energy markets.

Providing energy choices for displaced people

The recently launched ‘Access to more: creating energy choices for refugees’ report highlights collaborative approaches to help sustainably electrify humanitarian camps and settlements.

Because of its innovative business models and ability to reach the last-mile with reliable and affordable energy access, the off-grid solar sector is uniquely positioned to play an important role in creating a structured energy infrastructure within displaced settings. Here are some of the short-term recommendations for the private sector to get involved listed in the report:

  • Humanitarian organisations, governments, and the private sector should share knowledge and collaborate to better understand the needs in displacement settings.
  • Partner with NGOs and aid agencies to jointly deliver projects.
  • Explore robust, higher quality solar lanterns that are portable and more affordable for displaced people – encouraging them to make energy investments with their limited budgets.
  • Continue to test the viability of PAYGo in displacement settings.

Energy access within humanitarian camps and settlements is not only an issue of basic needs and dignity of living but also an opportunity for the sector to reach those who would benefit most from it. It is also a very important component to achieving SDG7 and the promise of leaving no one behind.

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