According to the UNHCR, at the beginning of 2017, there were around 36,000 refugees, mostly Eritreans, in Shire refugee camps. In particular, at Adi-Harush refugee camp, where our pilot project was taking place, hosts around 8,000 Eritrean men and women.
Ethiopia has become a transit country for Eritreans attempting to reach Europe. Thousands of Eritreans, many of whom are unaccompanied minors, constantly fled from their country due to the continuous violations of human rights.
Energy access-related problems at these camps are numerous. The electric supply service generated by the electricity grid is extremely irregular and dangerous, due to the facilities’ low quality.
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MAY ANI CAMP
The use of firewood for cooking is progressively causing deforestation in the surrounding environment. Women and girls, in charge of firewood collection, must walk longer distances each time, being exposed to safety risks.
Shire refugee camps (with the exception of Hitsats camp) are connected to the national electricity grid. The said grid provides power to some communal services at the refugee camp, like communal kitchens and training centres.
The UNHCR, through the Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), is currently covering the electricity costs in the camps by paying to the Ethiopian Electric Utility (EEU), which is the national electrical company.
However, the poorly installed electrical wiring and the irregular power supply jeopardizes the availability of the service and causes power cuts, so there are only six hours of electricity per day. Furthermore, there is a high risk of electrical shocks due to lack of protection devices, neither for facilities nor for people.
Some of the most common challenges in off-grid or poorly powered refugee camps are listed below:
- Diesel generators require a relatively low initial investment but, when compared to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or micro hydro power, they represent a higher average cost per energy unit in the long term. Although the initial investment in diesel systems is usually low, diesel generators require regular purchase of fuel and constant maintenance, e.g. oil and filter changes. Using renewable energy sources thus provides an obvious environmental advantage in terms of carbon footprint reduction.
- In off-grid refugee camps, diesel generators are used to provide energy for community facilities run by camp management, e.g. schools, medical centres and street lighting.
Refugees, meanwhile, use firewood for domestic tasks such as cooking, lighting and heating.
- Many off-grid refugee camps are also situated in countries with hot climates where the solar energy is fairly abundant. In countries within the so-called “sunbelt” (between the 35º N and 35º S parallels) the potential of using solar photovoltaic energy in refugee camps is high.
- The use of firewood in refugee households has strong cross-cutting impacts on the environment, refugee health, the relationship between the host community and the displaced population and gender-related issues.
- Even when electricity is partially available challenges still arise because power supply is irregular and unpredictable.
Electrical wiring is often poorly installed and maintained, and the refugee population is thus exposed to an increased risk of electrical shocks.