Why private companies should help improve access to energy for refugees

Social media news | Article originally published on LinkedIn

Providing reliable, affordable and clean energy for refugees is complex and requires specific experience and expertise. This is why governments and humanitarian organisations increasingly seek to partner with private companies. That is why Shell is joining these partnerships, because as a global energy company, I believe we can make a contribution.

I will never forget the hunger and desperation I saw when I visited a refugee camp 30 years ago. It was in Ghana, West Africa, and I was visiting my then girlfriend (now my wife) who was working there supplying food to camps that housed refugees from Togo. I saw that the life of a refugee is a life with many choices taken away. A refugee cannot choose how to live, earn a living, or plan for the future. A refugee often does not even have a choice over whether they can light their homes or cook their food, because they just don’t have the energy they need.

But in that camp, I also saw great ingenuity, willpower and humanity. Refugees, but also all other displaced people – those forced to leave their homes but who did not cross a border in search of safety – and the communities who host them, could significantly improve their lives if they had reliable, clean, safe and affordable energy.

Governments and humanitarian organisations are having difficulty providing this energy, because the number of displaced people across the world has been growing. Also, crises are taking longer to solve and the range of energy needs of people in camps and settlements is becoming wider. This is why governments and the humanitarian sector are increasingly asking businesses to help give people in and around settlements the possibility to choose the energy they want and need.

But we need more insight into how governments, humanitarian organisations and private companies can work together to deliver energy in and around refugee camps. This is why Dalberg, Vivid Economics and Shell have looked at how providing energy choices in and around these camps works today, and how it could work better in the future. You can take a look at the report here.

The report confirms that providing energy for those who need it most is far too complex for one country, community or company to solve. This is why Shell is, for example, partnering with the Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement, the Smart Communities Coalition, and the UNHCR Clean Energy Challenge. Shell is also working closely with experienced organisations to find new ways of delivering energy in and around camps that work on a large scale. With the NGO Mercy Corps, for instance, we are looking to help supply electricity to a refugee camp close to a city called Jigjiga in eastern Ethiopia. And together with the International Organization for Migration, we aim to use solar energy to help rebuild the livelihoods of people displaced by the cyclones that hit Mozambique in 2019. To make sure others can also benefit from our insights, we will openly share everything we learn through these pilot projects.

Three decades after my visit to a refugee camp, there is still a very long way to go. I hope governments, humanitarian organisations and companies such as Shell can continue to build trust and learn from each other, so together we can help to improve the lives of refugees and other displaced people across the world.