Sustainable Energy

Refugee camps could save millions and lives by doing this

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

The world's refugee camps could become better and healthier places if aid agencies and charities adopt a more sustainable approach to living conditions, according to a new report.

Roughly 90 percent of refugees living in camps lack access to electricity, with many also living without light at night, according to a report from Chatham House for the Moving Energy Initiative.

The report comes with the world in the midst of a mass migration, as people flee treacherous conditions across the planet. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of 2014 there were 19.5 million refugees globally.

"The problem goes beyond electricity," Glada Lahn, senior research fellow with the Energy, Environment and Resources Department at Chatham House, said in a release.

Flat-pack solar light that could change lives

"Eighty percent of those in camps rely on firewood for cooking and, as a result, we estimate that some 20,000 people die prematurely each year due to the pollution from indoor fires," she added.

Globally, this problem is a big one: According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), more than 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity and 2.6 billion have no access to clean cooking facilities.

Lahn went on to state that the lack of provision for energy undermined "the fundamental aims of humanitarian assistance."

As well as the humanitarian impact on dispossessed people, there is also an environmental one: The report estimates that 64,700 acres of forest are burned every year by "forcibly displaced families living in camps."

In a foreword to the report, Kofi Annan said that, "Entrepreneurship and amazing advances in technology are not being used systematically to respond to the needs of uprooted people or the communities that host them."

The report recommends several "practical ways forward" including the revision of camp planning models with "sustainable energy objectives in mind" and the creation of a "revolving fund that can lend to agencies proposing to invest in energy service projects."

"Using green, culturally appropriate technologies could save lives, reduce CO2 emissions by 11 million tonnes per year and radically improve living standards," Lahn said.

"Introducing even the most basic solutions, such as improved cookstoves and basic solar lanterns, could save $323 million a year in fuel costs," she added.