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close this book Boiling Point No. 37 - June 1996 : Household Energy in Emergency Situations
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Boiling Point No. 37 - June 1996 : Household Energy in Emergency Situations





The global refugee problem is massive and growing: in 1995 there were over 23 million refugees and a further 26 million people who were internally displaced within their own country. Refugee populations are found in most parts of the world, now mainly in Africa, (particularly East and Central Africa) which has a third of all refugees and two thirds of the internally displaced.

The environmental impact of these emergency settlements is often not recognized, and in particular the use of wood and other biomass for fuel can be locally devastating. Energy supplies are usually not among the first priorities addressed by relief agencies, which tend to focus initially on food, shelter, water and sanitation.

Failure to make early arrangements for sustainable energy use and fuel wood supplies often means that, by the time the agencies come to address the problem, it has already become acute. They are also unlikely to have the funds needed to determine and set up the most efficient long term energy strategy for their camp. Scarcity of wood for fuel also brings refugees into competition with local communities, and can lead to tension and even conflict.

All these difficulties magnified when people are displaced for long periods of time - in many cases, for years - a situation which is becoming more common. The problem is complex and varied, and therefore requires a whole package of responses - as do many apparently simple problems. It is certainly much more than a matter of simply providing a particular kind of improved stove. Effective solutions need to consider such questions as energy needs, and supplies and distribution in the vicinity of the camp. They also need to consider food preferences of refugees, their cooking and eating practices, nutrition, their skills and knowledge in fuel saving; also the production and supply of more fuel-efficient technologies, and how to ensure that refugee communities are effective participants in activities which use fuel more effectively and protect the local environment.

Each emergency situation and refugee camp has its own problems, but even so there has been all too little sharing of experience and information between organizations to promote the most effective approaches. Although improved stoves are by no means the only way of saving energy, it should be remembered that in the home about 80 per cent of the fuel used goes into the stove. Equally important is the health damage to women and children from fumes caused by incomplete combustion and unsuitable fuels. Very many developing countries now have their own household energy programmes with specialists in stove design and construction, often backed by regional or international organisations with wider experience. Camp planners should make more use of these facilities to help with problems which are outside their normal expertise.

A workshop on fuels and stoves for refugees camps was organized by ITDG in Nairobi in November 1995. A summary of the proceedings and extracts from some of the papers are given on pages 21 and 22 below.

Energy, fuels and stoves are more complex technologies than they often appear from seeing a three-stone fire, and there are vigorous debates among experts on problems such as smoke removal. This edition of Boiling Point presents views and experience ranging from general camp energy planning to the selection of individual stoves and fuels.

The articles that follow look at energy supplies for emergency settlements from several different angles, drawing on their authors' experiences with refugees in Africa, Asia and Europe. Some explore the potential of a range of stove technologies, for cooking and heating, made from a variety of materials. Others look more widely at ways of reducing the use of fuel, and of finding the most suitable institutional arrangements in camps for using energy supplies efficiently and rationally. An idea of the full range of issues to be considered in selecting appropriate cooking technologies is given in the concluding checklist by Matthew Owen and Ian Grant.