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Improving energy access in East Sudan's refugee crisis

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  • As the refugee crisis in East Sudan continues, UNDP is investing in longer-term solutions to support those in-need and already vulnerable local host communities

  • With limited access to fuel for cooking and energy, refugees are often left with no option but to clear-cut wood from surrounding local forests, increasing tensions with host communities and impacting the environment

  • To address safety and basic service gaps, UNDP is installing 70 solar-powered streetlights in the camps and surrounding local villages, and is trialing solar-powered cellular charging points

  • Additionally, UNDP is supplying 900 solar cookers to families in Um Rakuba and Tunaydbah refugee camps, and nearby host communities, supporting an estimated 4,500 people

“Cutting trees is the only option, since we don’t have the money to buy charcoal,” says mother of three Kibrat Rizgay, highlighting a pressing access to energy challenge for many of the 61,000 Ethiopian refugees who have fled to Sudan.

In a sparsely populated area, sudden demand for firewood has forced many to chop nearby trees. While providing a source of fuel, and income, it is also straining relations with local communities and creating long term environmental consequences.

With transport of fossil fuels a challenge, and establishing an electrical grid a significant undertaking, UNDP has turned to renewable energy solutions to urgently improve access to energy.

Given the numbers of people transiting locations, safety remains a priority. 70 solar-powered streetlights are being installed across Um Rakuba and Tunaydbah camps – improving security and enabling humanitarian operations to continue at night – and the nearby Doka town and surrounding villages to assist local communities.

Facilities like the newly expanded Um Rakbuba health centre and other communal facilities have benefited – as have community members employed to install the lighting in cash-for-work programmes.

Additionally, 900 ‘family’ solar box cookers, capable of feeding around five people daily, are being provided to refugee families in Um Rakuba and Tunaydbah refugee camps, and nearby host communities, supporting an estimated 4,500 people.

Kalkidal Haftom, 22, is the youngest of her seven-member family who crossed the border. Based in Um Rakuba refugee camp, she and her family have made use of solar cookers.

“Charcoal is available at the center of the camp, but it is expensive, and we don’t have the money,” Kalkidal explains. “There are few trees around the camp and everyone was cutting them to cook.”

“Even the option of cutting trees is difficult because it is far outside the camp, and most trees around the camp are gone now.”

Cooking for a large family, Kalkidal and her sister take turns fetching supplies, often rice and lentils, and cooking duties - something that can take time.

While effective, solar cookers are not perfect. Limited to use during the day and in sunny conditions, they often cook slower than firewood or charcoal. Lentils or rice can take one to four hours depending on conditions, and heat can be lost if the cooker is opened too early. But, Kalkidal still considers herself fortunate to have one.

With local forests under pressure, other fuel sources often inaccessible, and safety risks when collecting firewood, the solar solution provides a stop-gap measure and – coupled with immediate efforts to improve effectiveness, and future plans to support reforestation – addresses concerns among communities hosting refugees.

In response to the ongoing crisis in Eastern Sudan, UNDP has mobilized emergency response teams and resources to address urgent needs, longer-term basic service gaps, durable solutions for refugees, and broader stabilization and early recovery initiatives. Efforts have focused primarily on Um Rakuba and Tunaydbah refugee camps, in addition to seven surrounding host communities, and the fluctuating numbers of refugees transiting Hamdayet. Early UNDP intervention in a crisis enables people to use the benefits of humanitarian action to seize development opportunities, build resilience, and support sustainable recovery.