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Clean cooking in refugee camps and COVID-19: what lessons can we learn?

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Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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Clean energy cooking in refugee camps should be prioritised on the humanitarian agenda, new briefing note argues

  • New briefing note outlines lessons to be learned from implementing clean cooking in refugee camps in the context of the challenges posed by COVID-19
  • Researchers say it is a "call for action to tackle the energy access challenge by co-designing and testing clean, modern energy cooking solutions"
  • The note argues that clean energy for cooking in displacement settings should be prioritised on the humanitarian agenda
  • It also highlights the importance of "partnerships, innovation, and the development of financially and environmentally sustainable models for the provision of clean cooking in displacement"
  • Members of the public are asked to promote the document to help raise awareness and ensure it is seen by relevant stakeholders.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced in the world at the end of 2019, and over the course of 2020, that number has soared beyond 80 million*.

Displaced communities still heavily rely on open fires and polluting fuels for cooking. Loughborough academics are tackling this issue by supporting transitions to clean, modern energy cooking.

Displaced populations include refugees, who have crossed an international border to seek safety, and Internally Displaced People (IDP), who have moved within their country to avoid conflict.

Fleeing homes due to conflict, persecution or disasters leaves these populations facing acute challenges in accessing energy.

Over 80% of refugees and IDPs living in camps rely on biomass for cooking -- this includes firewood, charcoal, and animal dung.

Not only does this have negative health implications, but it also means thousands of hectares of forests vanish each year to support the cooking needs of the displaced and host communities alike.

Loughborough academics are working hard to come up with solutions to ensure clean cooking is accessible around the world through the multi-million-pound Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme.

One of the latest outcomes of the programme, which is funded by UK Aid (FCDO), is a briefing note by Dr Iwona Bisaga and Dr Long Seng To, which outlines lessons to be learned from implementing clean cooking in refugee camps in the context of the challenges posed by COVID-19.

The briefing note discusses access to energy for cooking in refugee camps and the implications of lack thereof.

It explores the impact COVID-19 has had on camp settings and outlines three examples of progress in clean cooking transitions that took place in 2020 in displaced communities situated in Rwanda, Uganda, and Bangladesh.

The note argues that clean energy for cooking in displacement settings should be prioritised on the humanitarian agenda and highlights the importance of "partnerships, innovation, and the development of financially and environmentally sustainable models for the provision of clean cooking in displacement".

"The briefing note provides some lessons learned to inform practitioners, private sector companies and, most importantly, policymakers and investors", explained Dr Bisaga.

"We hope it will demonstrate how vulnerable those settings are to shocks such as COVID-19 but also how resilient they are, and what's needed to boost that resilience while at the same time facilitate improved access to clean, modern energy.

"It should also help raise awareness of the challenges as well as opportunities associated with providing basic services in displacement settings, and why they are so critical."

Through this briefing note, the researchers have set out to target investors and stakeholders specialising in energy, sustainable finance, and international development.

They are hoping members of the public will also do their bit to get the message out there.

Dr Bisaga said: "This is a call for action to tackle the energy access challenge by co-designing and testing clean, modern energy cooking solutions.

"There is also a need for investment to support efforts towards transitioning refugees and other displaced to cleaner cooking fuels and technologies. The opportunities for making a difference are there to be seized."

Dr Long Seng To added: "It's vital that the process is inclusive of all stakeholders, including displaced people and host communities."

To read the briefing note in full, click here. To learn more about the current landscape of modern energy cooking services in displacement settings, click here.

More information on MECS can be found on the dedicated website.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/72

*Introduction figures from: https://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/5fc504d44/mid-year-trends-2020.html