The struggle between refugees and their environment has a solar powered solutionAugust 2017
Portable solar powered lights and chargers are a step along the way to realising the future vision of “green” refugee camps. Having an environmentally friendly, reliable light or power source, that can be taken with you on the move, and are durable enough to survive harsh environments, are necessary tools for refugees.
Refugees are both responding to and aggravating ongoing environmental catastrophes. The fierce surge in extreme weather events is indisputably linked to climate change.
Natural disasters displaced three times as many people as war in 2013. The number of people forced to flee their homes because of hurricanes, floods, and other natural hazards is on average 27 million a year, and this number keeps on rising.
When people are forced to escape destroyed areas, and re-settle in makeshift camps, there is desperation, a chaotic rush and everything is put together with minimal resources and a sense of urgency. At the moment refugee camps do not have the infrastructure to support sustainable practices, or to ensure a safe, green environment for the people who end up living there for far longer than ever intended.
Welcoming refugees with an empty hand
20 out of the 30 countries hosting the largest amount of refugees are amongst the least developed in the world, struggling to support their own communities, let alone a great influx of displaced people. In 2015, Chatham House reported that 80 percent of the 8.7 million refugees living in camps in Africa have absolutely minimal access to energy. It is common for massive deforestation to occur when refugees enter a new country. Space needs to be cleared for a settlement to be built, and often burning wood is the only source of energy. UNHCR support refugee camps in Tanzania that are ‘one hundred percent reliant on fuel obtained from local forests’. Globally ‘thousands of metric tons of forest are cut down every day by people desperate for any kind of cooking or heating fuel’. Deforestation is disastrous for ecosystems, and burning biomass is highly polluting, an unsafe source of energy, and unsustainable.
It’s time to make provisions for the future, which, if global trends continue, is set to see a mega surge in natural catastrophes and displaced persons.
Innovative sustainable solutions that improve the infrastructure of camps and give safe energy access to refugees are starting to be explored and implemented by the international community. Renewable energy and solar powered light forms a big part of that solution.
Re-thinking the way refugees are accommodated so that they have a sustainable resettlement is important for community integration, prevention of further environmental damage, and to ensure a basic quality of life for all. Looking forward, the aim is to have “green” refugee camps that run on renewable power like solar energy and wind turbines as well as sanitation and waste management solutions that do not pollute the water sources and cause health problems. Additionally, innovative energy-saving stoves paired with biomass briquettes that can reduce toxic emissions by up to 98% and reduce the amount of wood needed to cook meals by 80-90%.
Portable solar powered lights and chargers are a step along the way to realising this greater vision. Having a pocketful of sunshine that can either shine a light or charge a phone, can be taken with you on the move, and are durable enough to survive harsh environments, are necessary tools for refugees.
Solar lamps can be used as a guiding light: you can get around a refugee camp easily at night, go to the bathroom with dignity, and make your way back to your tent again safely, spotting any lurking threats along the way. Food, water and shelter are the basic provisions needed by refugees in emergency situations, but what is often overlooked is that access to energy is also integral for sustaining life. Giving a solar lamp or charger to someone living without energy access is also a symbol of hope, self- worth, empathy and global consciousness.