Leaving no one behind: Energy for humanitarian response and sustainable development
18 Sep 2016
Delegates Dining Room, UN Headquarters, New York
A broad coalition of governments, international organizations, businesses and civil society groups on Monday joined forces at the United Nations to call for and consider urgent action to address the substantial energy needs of refugees and displaced people worldwide.

The assembled organizations agreed that access to clean and sustainable energy can transform broken lives, create empowering opportunities, and bridge the humanitarian-development divide by improving livelihoods, food security and nutrition, health, safety, education and the environment. At the event, the leaders committed to develop new partnerships, to share information, and to continue to meet to report on future progress on the integration of sustainable energy solutions into humanitarian responses.

“Universal access to clean energy could vastly improve the health and well-being of millions of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons,” said Kelly T. Clements, Deputy United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “We have a long way to go to ensure clean energy access for all, but going forward with governments, civil society, and the private sector, we can together develop effective solutions for the 21st century.”

Energy is an essential factor for sustainable development and poverty eradication; yet, 1.1 billion people do not have access to electricity. 2.8 billion still rely on wood, charcoal, animal, -and crop waste or other solid fuels to cook their food and heat their homes. For the over 125 million people affected by conflict-related crises and natural disasters, the situation is even more dire. With a huge shortage in funding as well as limited policies and practice on sustainable -and clean energy provision within the humanitarian community, current energy practices in camps are often dirty, inefficient, polluting, unsafe for the users, and damaging to the surrounding environment.

The consequences are staggering. Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. Only 50% have access to primary education, compared with a global level of more than 90 per cent. Only 1% of refugee youth go to university. About 10% of refugees have reliable access to electricity for lighting, heating, cooking and powering. 80% of those in camps rely on firewood for cooking and heating and, as a result, an estimated 20,000 people – primarily women and children – die prematurely each year due to the pollution from indoor fires. Wood equaling around 49,000 football pitches worth of forest (64,700 acres) is burned by displaced families living in camps each year. Rape and violence against women is common in many unlit camps, and is a risk during the many hours that women spend collecting firewood for fuel. A recent survey noted that only 4% of women and girls in households in the Goudoubo camp in Burkina Faso would go out after dark due to the lack of streetlights.

Access to sustainable energy can deliver quick returns in humanitarian situations; enhancing safety, security, productivity, and health for camp inhabitants, host countries, camp operators, and the environment. It can also serve as a powerful means for bridging the gap between humanitarian response and development, create opportunities to pursue education, businesses and social enterprises, and spur innovation. Sustainable energy can power health centres and ensure that life-saving medication is refrigerated. Street lighting can create greater safety at night, particularly for women and girls. Alternative fuel to firewood can reduce the exposure of women to sexual violence when they go out to look for wood, and can free up time for other pursuits. Solar-powered lamps enable them to work, cook, study, socialize and continue with their lives after the sun has set. With clean, sustainable fuel, or fuel-efficient technologies, refugees can cook meals and avert the malnutrition and ill-health that may occur when using open and polluting fires.

Co-hosted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in cooperation with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, the IKEA Foundation, the Moving Energy Initiative, Schneider Electric and UN-Energy, the event that took place on the eve of the high-level United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants, brought together stakeholders from government, business, energy, development, climate -and humanitarian sectors to discuss challenges and opportunities, while committing to further actions, innovative partnerships and solutions.

“At the IKEA Foundation, we’re working towards a world where children and families having been forced to flee their homes can create a better future for themselves and their families,” said Per Heggenes, Chief Executive Officer of the IKEA Foundation, “Investing in renewable energy and developing smart solutions to help people cope with the impact of climate change is critical to achieving this goal. That is why the IKEA Foundation has invested over $30 million USD to provide solar energy for refugees and to help build capacity within UNHCR to develop more sustainable ways of delivering renewable energy. Next to providing thousands of solar street lights and solar lanterns, this investment has led to the first solar farm for a refugee camp and a first in-camp pay-as-you-go business model for solar home systems. This way, the IKEA Foundation is giving hundreds of thousands of people access to clean energy, now and in the years to come.”

“Ensuring sustainable energy solutions in humanitarian situations can generate many developmental benefits. Today I believe we took an important step toward a global action agenda,” said Minoru Takada, Team Leader, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

“Schneider Electric’s commitment to promote sustainable development and provide safe and clean access to energy is in our DNA,” said Emmanuel Lagarrigue, Executive Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer, “In the past 6 years, Schneider Electric has contributed to providing 5 million people with access to energy. The goal is to reach 50 million people within the next 10 years.”

“Without safe and reliable access to energy, it can be impossible to meet the basic needs of life,” said Ben Good, Chief Executive Officer, Energy 4 Impact (on behalf of the Moving Energy Initiative). “The Moving Energy Initiative – a ground-breaking international partnership – is working to change this, enabling the energy needs of refugees and displaced persons to be met sustainably.”

“The General Assembly is committed to bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach to the current refugee situation,” said Mogens Lykketoft, President of 70th Session of the General Assembly and Co-Chair of the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants. “Today’s event marks an opportunity for all stakeholders to outline concrete solutions and ideas that will serve as inspiration to the world. The upcoming summit is a historic opportunity to come up with a blueprint for a better international response.”
“It is far too common for crisis-affected people to risk their own safety to gather fuel and suffer from the smoke of inefficient cooking, all for the purpose of feeding their families,” says Radha Muthiah, CEO of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. “Energy access is an essential driver of sustainable development. In humanitarian settings, scaling up clean cooking solutions can be particularly transformative for the health, well-being, and livelihoods of refugees.”

“Sustainable energy means opportunity. Opportunity means hope for a better future,” said Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. “That is what we all owe the displaced youth of today.”

For more information, please contact Jonas von Freiesleben, UN Division for Sustainable Development, freiesleben@un.org, +1 212 963 1660

Please access photo gallery here
United Nations