Refugees and displaced people have always been at the center of public attention. The international community and humanitarian aid organizations have triggered substantial debate when it comes to refugee settlement and standards of living within temporary camps in host countries. Fleeing wars, conflicts, violence and persecution in their country of origin, refugees risk their lives and take their chances in pursuit of a secure place to live with decent living conditions.

The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is ranked as the largest refugee camp in the world according to Médecins Sans Frontières and is comprised of five different camps: Dagahaley, Hagadera, Ifo, Ifo II and Kambioos. It hosts nearly half a million Somali refugees who fled the 1991 collapse of the Somali government and subsequent civil war and humanitarian crisis. Another 100,000 refugees arrived in 2011 due to severe drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. The Dadaab refugee complex was designed to accommodatea maximum of 160,000 refugees. According to UNHCR data, the registered Somali refugee population is approximately 330,000, which has transformed the camp into a vast, virtual city of the Eastern African region. The most recent news is that Kenya’s government is planning to shut down the camps in fear of potential terrorist attacks from Islamist extremism, growing insecurity and deterioration of the Kenyan economy.

The Dadaab complex has served as a home for a large number of Somali refugees over the last 25 years, but can such a packed refugee camp provide sustainable temporary accommodation while ensuring decent living conditions for refugees?

Eco-entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability in the Dadaab camp

  1. Solar power for water provision

The Dadaab refugee settlement is a good example of developing eco-entrepreneurship and green business in Africa. A solar-powered water distribution system was first successfully piloted by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in 2013 with funding from the European Commission. It is equipped with 278 solar panels of 69.5 KW power rating and provides the camp with a daily average of approximately 28,0000 litres of water. About 16,000 refugees are now provided with potable water, which prevents diarrheal and respiratory diseases and ensures personal hygiene. This initiative is not only innovative, but also environmentally and economically friendly. African nations must invest in economically, environmentally and socially sustainable energy within refugee camps as a cost-effective and green business-oriented solution.

  1. Energy for camp administration

Generators and solar power are the main sources of electricity in the camp and are rarely hybrid systems. However, within a green business environment, priority should be given to solar power which improves access to a cost-effective supply of clean and sustainable energy among displaced populations in refugee camps. According to a research paper by Chatham House, the Dadaab complex has 99 generators managed by the UNHCR and powered with only 10 kVA to 400-455 kVA, which may cause under-loading and asset inefficiency. The UNHCR consumes 200,000 litres of diesel per month for use in generators, at a cost of USD $0.94 per litre. This is equivalent to a total of USD $2,256,000 per year. Young African entrepreneurs with business acumen have a chance to identify sustainable investment opportunities within refugee camps and ensure a more efficient and eco-friendly provision of energy to Dadaab camp operations.

  1. Leverage the capacities of refugees and displaced people

Bottom-up innovation for green business solutions can be a very good response to the humanitarian crisis and displacement of African people. Energy management programs that directly target refugees are not as efficient as partnering with refugees and leveraging their skills and competencies in the local community. The key challenge here for green solutions is the empowerment and involvement of refugees in generating alternatives and maintaining sustainable expertise for the long-run. Technical services, knowledge, research and technology can be delivered to the local community, transforming refugees into partners and acknowledging them as more than recipients of humanitarian support and help. A successful capacity-building initiative launched by the UNCHR Innovation and UNHCR Energy & Environment Unit in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia assisted refugees with designing and producing healthy, fuel-efficient cook stoves to reduce firewood consumption. In addition, suitable training and facilitation were provided to support refugees in producing solar bulbs using locally available materials.

  1. Innovation and waste products

Can a person simultaneously be a refugee and an entrepreneur? The answer is yes. A bright example is the local community in the Hagadera refugee camp, where refugees are engaged in recycling plastic waste. Waste materials are compiled, transferred into open space, shredded and then packed and sold as raw materials to industrial manufacturers. This successful project was initially implemented in 2012 and managed by the Refugee Recycling Income Group (RRIG). It transformed a refugee camp into both a green environment and an eco-entrepreneur local community. Proven to be an innovative way of ameliorating refugees’ living conditions, recycling waste generates income covering daily expenses, reduces plastic waste in Hagadera and enhances people’s hygiene and quality of life.

The aforementioned initiatives in the Dadaab complex show that refugee camps regarded as temporary or permanent host communities hold the potential for thriving eco-entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability. Meeting the energy needs of refugees and displaced people is a “win-win” strategy. Millions of refugees can benefit by improving their daily lives and living conditions. At the same time, new entrepreneurs can facilitate innovative and creative ways to deliver sustainable and cleaner energy, alleviate energy poverty and provide multiple benefits to displaced people and the countries that host them.

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Eleana Velentza
About Author: Eleana Velentza
Eleana is an Economist with a strong background in Statistics. She obtained her Bachelor degree in Statistics from the University of Piraeus and her Master degree in International and European Economics from Athens University of Economics and Business in Greece. She has been involved in research, advocacy and policy analysis at both national and European levels in social affairs and policies, economic issues and development and aid cooperation. She has also carried out several projects that focus on EU policies. Her main areas of interest are Social Inclusion, Humanitarian Aid, Development Economics and Cooperation.