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close this bookBoiling Point No. 42 - Household Energy and the Environment (ITDG - ITDG, 1999, 44 p.)
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Household energy and environmental rehabilitation; opportunities and challenges

by Muiruri J Kimani, GTZ/UNHCR Environmental Rehabilitation Programme, PO Box 41607, Nairobi, Kenya.


When a country agrees to host refugees, it becomes responsible for the environmental changes that occur because of their stay. Environmental degradation has always been associated with refugee situations, particularly in sub-Saharan African countries, but although some degradation is inevitable, planning and developing appropriate ways of dealing with the problems can yield real benefits.

Although there has been considerable experience with environmental issues in refugee situations worldwide, lessons are ignored and the same problems seem to be confronted whenever there is a new refugee situation. Also, there is a tendency to separate environmental aspects from other parts of refugee assistance, such as food and shelter, and experiences gained in other assistance fields is lost.

The supply of fuels, promotion of energy saving devices and energy saving methods, are the main strategies adopted in many refugee situations. Other possibilities include introducing regulations to control fuelwood collection, training and public awareness on fuel use, always within the context of the social cultural, economic, political considerations on the ground.

It is now clear that refugee situations are not temporary, so plans should involve the mid-term to long-term effects, but nevertheless be able to adapt to rapidly changing refugee situations.

For example, a project set up to look at local deforestation may find complications such as:

· both the refugees and the local population may be living in extreme poverty;

· the host government might not be able to support a development or poverty alleviation project

· There could be general insecurity in the areas in question.

In such circumstances, offering relief may not be enough and agencies may need to act as mediators and try to alleviate local poverty, to ensure that:

· the impact of the displaced community on the local environment is minimal;

· work undertaken will cope with possible future environmental problems;

· the security and well being of the displaced community is not put at risk.

The idea that refugee communities should receive free aid without responsibilities must be replaced by the concept that refugee communities are like any other rural, poor population, except they have fewer resources and opportunities.

Energie domestique et rbilitation de l'environnement: opportunitet ds.

Cet article concerne des pays accueillant des rgi Le probl des rgin'est pas temporaire, aussi une planification ourt, moyen et long terme de l'rgie domestique et de l'environnement est-elle nssaire. Les approches doivent e adapt aux changements de la situation des rgi Les mesures ettre en oeuvre doivent prendre en considtion le rapatriement ainsi que la rbilitation de l'environnement. Un personnel qualifit ayant la connaissance du terrain est une condition importante du succde ces programmes.

The role of GTZ in emergency situations

Although GTZ is traditionally a development agency, it is increasing involved in relief and emergency programmes including environmental interventions e.g. natural resources protection, afforestation, supply of firewood, firewood substitution, energy conservation and education measures. By bridging relief and development concepts, it has been possible to reduce the impact on the environment caused by refugee situations.

The problems

· The traditional approach has been to focus on quick and massive dissemination and adoption of improved cooking stoves and techniques.

· The issue of land-ownership; for example, in tree planting, having control over the ownership of trees, power to decide which trees to plant, which tree products to harvest and sell etc. is vital.

· Household energy programmes have also, in the past, been mistakenly approached from a purely technical perspective, forgetting that every situation has its own peculiar characteristics.

· It is vital for those organizing household energy programmes to have adequate technical awareness to evaluate the benefits of various interventions.

· High staff turnover, prevalent in refugee situations, has meant that unless there is proper documentation, in-depth knowledge of project interventions and experiences is lost.

· Integrating household energy activities into the general refugee operation has often been neglected.

· Lack of participation and adequate representation of those involved in household energy programmes has often occurred because the lack of time and the emergency nature of the situations.

Principles that should be adopted

The following guiding principles need to be taken into account when formulating household energy programmes. Any interventions should:

· recognize the emergency nature of the situations but appreciate that when the emergency phase is over, the displaced communities will remain;

· contain an element of development, where the displaced communities and the local community share the benefits resulting from the interventions.

· interventions should aim to offer 'wider' and 'longer term' solutions e.g. contribute to incomes, improve personal security, reduce workloads etc

· be fairly simple and adaptable; any cash or material inputs should be minimal. Emphasis should be given to the use of locally available resources

· be flexible and easily replicable taking advantage of existing skills; they need to be exportable and useable in most places

· should not be considered 'free hand-outs' similar to the food and non-food items freely issued to the community.

Figure 1: Bridging relief and development, a tree-planting nursery

Figure 2: A shielded fireplace

Conventional versus Improved (firewood) stoves

If wet or green firewood or small twigs are more available than dry wood, they perform better with three stone fires unless improved stoves are specifically designed for them. which in most cases they are not. The reason is that green and/or wet firewood need more air, and emit more smoke than dry firewood. In such situations, a shielded open fire might be more appropriate. On the other hand, when small twigs and brush are used as fuel it is necessary to lower the pot to the fire and/or reduce the amount of air going into the fire. Incidentally, improved stoves have fixed or semi-fixed designs and are not as flexible as the three stones fireplaces. That is why it is common to find a household cooking on a three stone fire next to a functional improved stove.

Appropriate interventions

A comprehensive 'package' covering all aspects of household energy should be considered. For example, stove adoption increased when the household was supplied with firewood only if it constructed and used an improved stove.

Until recently, programmes have mistakenly based their success on the number of units given out rather than the number used. Technological solutions should be arrived at by consulting the community and should be part of the general refugee assistance programme. Furthermore, technological interventions should encourage and support the community to look at their lives as dynamic and progressive and contribute to (self)-confidence building.

Factors to consider when developing technologies in household energy programmes:

Familiarity - technologies should be based on what the community have and are used to;

Simplicity - they should not add extra burdens to the community in terms of time, labour or education and should take into account the prevailing gender considerations;

affordability - the basic models should not necessarily require cash investments;

durability - they should be strong e.g. not be destroyed by rain and should be built and repaired with minimal outside help

sustainability - they should be built, maintained and reproduced without depending on agencies to provide external inputs like clay, metal etc.

flexibility - it should be possible for them to be dismantled, built up again and modified without outside help

Adaptability - they should encourage users to further improve them e.g. with mud/clay lining, additional wind breaks, lower pot rests, etc.

Ensuring continuity of skills

In many displaced communities situations, the big international agencies leave after the initial emergency phase is over. It is important for the original agencies to ensure that they pass on their skills to smaller NGOs during their stay to enable them to carry out the programmes, through secondment of trainers, or through exchange visits to similar projects elsewhere.

A major goal for agencies should be to train skilled people among the displaced and local community to carry out household energy conservation programmes once the outside agency goes away.

Community (stakeholder) participation in household energy programmes

Communities should be actively involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of household energy programmes. This is because the communities have the greatest interest in the well being of their immediate environment. Lack of participation results in hostilities, suspicions and indifference. It is important that the stakeholders themselves decide on their level of involvement.

Commercialization and Income Generation

For household energy programmes to be sustainable, they need to be commercialized. Initial subsidies are necessary in the research, development and awareness creation phases but have to be carefully applied and phased out as soon as possible. Opportunities for the majority of displaced communities to earn incomes are usually limited. The argument that the people do not need money because their needs are catered for is incorrect. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a situation where even the basic needs of such communities are adequately met.

The recommended strategy for on-site technology production is to support private entrepreneurs or well-organized groups. External support should be limited to initial support covering:

· technical training;
· marketing and book-keeping;
· skills development;
· provision of working tools on a credit or revolving fund basis.

Improved Cooking System Promotion in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

This approach was developed by GTZ for the Kahindo Refugee Camp (DRC) with a population of approximately 600 000 people comprising 10 000 households.

· Some days beforehand, a trainer together with the community leader identified three small groups to be trained on a particular day. In every group, one household preferably belonging to a vulnerable family or the community leader was selected as the 'model household'.

· Five families around this household were asked to report to the model household for a two hour training session. Unless the household was seriously handicapped, it was asked to provide the necessary materials for the stove construction demonstration.

· During the demonstration, participating households were required to take part (hands-on) in the actual construction. The trainers re-visited trained households three days after the training to check on how the households were getting on.

· Key trainers were identified from every block representing several groups. A regular follow-up schedule to the various households was developed, which was easy and cheap since the trainers were refugees and lived among the community.

Fuelwood Distribution and Substitution

It is being increasingly debated whether providing at least the 'minimum' fuel needed in refugee situations should be considered alongside health, food, water, shelter etc.

Fuelwood Distribution of an organized supply

Trucking of fuelwood is a very expensive, especially where road networks are not well developed. The fuel should not be harvested and trucked from within walking distances from camps or settlements. Ideally, the fuel should be bought from private, government plantations or individual farmers and be accompanied by a programme of replanting.

Figure 3: Improved biomass stove

Fuelwood Collection Support It is likely that some fuel will need to be collected. The communities need to be supported to fetch fuel from distant places in order to preserve their immediate environment. There are several strategies for supporting fuel collection:

· In situations where security is a problem, trucks can be provided to take people to fuel collection points. The truck can then transport back small quantities of fuel for the households unable to collect it, whilst the collectors return in small groups. Security should be provided along the route;

· Alternatively, the community could be asked to organize fuel collection groups. Escorts, either armed police or groups of men could then accompany the collection groups

· If women and children are responsible for collecting the fuel and if they are exposed to physical assault, the community should be asked to consider ways of involving men in the exercise.

Figure 4: Trucking in fuelwood

Fuelwood distribution

Problems are caused by:

· distribution sites that are located far away;
· lack of information about where and when the distribution is taking place;
· physically disabled preventing people from reaching collection points

It is necessary for agencies to get together with the communities to develop fair fuel distribution strategies which will reach everyone. They should also agree on penalties for those who do not keep to the agreed strategies.

Types of food

The type of the available food basket should be a key consideration in household energy programmes. For example, it is better to supply milled rather than whole grains because the former requires less energy to cook if the society finds them acceptable. Agencies involved in the food supply should be fully linked with household energy programmes.

Ensuring continuity


It is important to document achievements, setbacks and other experiences in household energy interventions. Once this is properly done, the impact, for example, of the frequent staff turn over and short term funding of projects is minimized and sustainability ensured particularly after the major agencies go away.

Integrating environmental issues into other sectors

To maintain the contribution to the security and well-being of the assisted communities, it is important to integrate household energy interventions into other activities. This can be done through the training of the extension workers e.g. community health and development workers. Through their daily interaction with the communities, these extension staff have established rapport, confidence and understand with the community.

Community Participation - The Environmental Working Groups (EWG)

In the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya, there is an Environmental Working Group (EWG) which provides a forum for discussing local natural resources. This working group is chaired by UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and has representatives from refugees, local communities, government and other agencies working in the region.

As refugees outnumber local people by a ratio of about ten to one in Dadaab, this method of solving problems is especially important as a channel for airing local views and concerns. Because everyone feels fairly represented, it has become the main way for getting things done. Similar working groups have been adopted in other refugee situations under different names.


Refugee situations are not temporary, and the planning for household energy and environmental mitigation programmes in general should be considered in the short, medium and long-term.

Most household energy approaches have been tried and refined in one situation or another. It is cheaper to borrow and adapt experiences from such projects in new situations. Exchange visits and secondment of staff to similar projects should be actively encouraged.

Conventional development approaches can be successfully adapted and applied to refugee situations. The approaches need to be flexible, dynamic and adapt to changing situations, and even look further into repatriation, rehabilitation and re-integration phases.

It is important that qualified and experienced staff be entrusted with the implementation of these approaches. Sound and objective decisions on and from the ground are necessary not only to ensure overall programme success but also to influence thinking at the different levels of decision making.


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Figure 5: Fuelwood distribution