Last updated: 13 February 2018
There are more displaced people living in refugee camps and IDP camps than at any time in human history.
People who live in camps have limited access to most things they need for daily life, including energy for cooking and making water safe to drink. The local energy supply is often very limited. And there are rarely sufficient funds to buy energy.
Free solar energy gives people access to energy they need for cooking and water pasteurization. This is critical where the energy supply is diminished and fuel is expensive.
Solar cooking aligns with the United Nations High Commission on Refugee’s environmental policy. Solar cooking helps achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But solar cooking in refugee and IDP camps continues to be an exception.
Have we accurately defined the problem? Do people in refugee camps have a felt need for solar cooking? Solar Cookers International invites its network members to help define the problem and ask the right questions. At the 6th SCI World Conference, January 2017, people with experience in refugee camps and settlements will share best practices, and identify complexities that need solving.
What refugees teach us
Refugee camps and IDP camps are places where individuals live collectively. There is no single description that applies to every camp resident. People gathered in camps endured different degrees of trauma, varied cultural and political backgrounds, and disparate education levels. Speaking of refugees collectively, as if every person living in a camp had the same circumstances, risks ignoring a wide variety of challenges. Considering each group as a collection of individuals with different needs is a more appropriate assessment strategy. And this applies to solar cooking implementation, too.
What kind of cooking tools do people living in refugee camps want? Project evaluations from camp projects spanning two decades reveal that people who live in circumstances not of their choosing will hold hard and fast to the few traditions that remain in their control - including traditional cooking behaviors.
Historically, camps have been selected for solar cooking projects based on factors like solar insolation, or ease of access by the NGO community. The same well-designed project can succeed in one camp yet fail in another. This is evidence that people, not the technology, can be the most critical factor predicting success in each solar cooking project.
Conference participants at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Forum 2013 Cambodia, the 5th SCI World Conference 2014, the 2015 SCI Regional Conference in the USA, and ConSolFood 2016 in Portugal frequently shared anecdotal evidence that the greatest barrier to the spread of solar cooking is not technical, but behavioral. It is more difficult for people to learn new behaviors than to acquire a new device. And some people who have apparently successfully adopted a new technology and experienced its benefits have rejected the new technology as soon as an opportunity to return to traditional practices arises. This reveals a complex set of behaviors and responses that may be wholly unrelated to project design.
Historically, successful solar cooker projects in many settings have been driven by a passionate person who uses the technology and shows leadership that is accepted by the community. People artificially gathered into disparate communities in times of disruption still need an impassioned person whom the group perceives as a leader to ignite changes in behavior. That is particularly important for deep, culturally-embedded activities like cooking.
The world community has so many needs, and resources are scarce. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are well-conceived, inclusive, and comprehensive. But funding to accomplish the global goals has fallen short. That's true of the solar cooking sector, too: every solar cooker, every bit of funding, counts. Focusing resources first on the communities where people have a felt need for solar cooking, and local leadership for follow-through, makes the most sense and is the wisest use of resources.
Well-intentioned outsiders may identify solutions. But the community members – in this instance, the camp residents--have the right to identify and choose interventions that they value. Focusing our efforts on the felt needs of the community members may be the best strategy for assigning scarce resources where they will have the greatest impact.
Undertaking projects where people have demonstrated resistance to technologies and behavior change has a predictably high rate of failure and results in a waste of valuable resources for all involved. SCI strongly recommends that site selection begins first in communities where residents identify a felt need for solar cooking and demonstrate a basic capacity for behavior change.
Readers who have lived in or worked closely with people in refugee or IDP camps, are strongly encouraged to share their experience with Solar Cookers International at firstname.lastname@example.org for the education of the international solar cooking network. Responses will be compiled and shared in the next SCI Digest.
Measures of success
Project and pilot evaluations for solar cooker projects in camps span more than two decades. A missing piece in the evaluations is the lack of an agreed-upon measure of success for such projects.
Some reports describe widespread use of solar cookers over a period of time, yet surprisingly conclude with a statement saying that solar cooking adoption was unsuccessful. Even within the solar cooking sector, there is a lack of agreement defining "adoption". Agreement of a baseline metric for adoption among the solar cooking sector is one of the first and most important steps to measure success. And establishing additional, clearly defined measures of success are critical.
Camp residents express a felt need that solar cooking is an appropriate alternative solution for their energy needs. This initial step is not optional: it is critical for success, creates the best possibilities for success, and is the best use of scarce sector resources.
It is generally accepted knowledge that the most important determinant of technology adoption is not only the technology, but the people and their attitudes. Someone who is committed to changing a cooking behavior will make the technology work; if a person is not committed to results that require a behavior change, even a high-priced and sophisticated technology will not result in adoption. Listening carefully to camp residents, learning about their priorities for fuel use, and clearly describing the honest lifestyle changes needed are important. Sector resources are scarce and must be allocated where the opportunity of success is greatest, not only where implementation is possible.
Selection of the best device for the context is also important. During a 26-month period that included two research phases, Working Group collaboration, and feedback from partners around the world, Solar Cookers International has developed a solar cooker Performance Evaluation Process (PEP) to assist with the selection of solar cookers. The PEP process was presented and demonstrated at the 6th SCI World Conference 2017 in Gujarat, India. The PEP tool will give an objective comparison of solar cooker performance by SCI Science Director, Dr. Alan Bigelow. PEP information will help individual householders, as well as agencies, implementing partners, government departments, and UNHCR to select the best technology for the local context.
Local leadership of solar cooking projects is ideally chosen by the residents of IDP and refugee camps, as are the trainers and the people who will lead follow-up and maintain the devices. Their roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Residents who display a dedication to behavior change are ideally the first to participate in implementation.
All parties commit to a full-project cycle of three to five years, and should clearly define a phase-in strategy, as well as a phase-out strategy.
Further details of successful preparation and planning stages, distilled from twenty-four years of experience in camp implementation projects, will be shared in a special session devoted to refugee and IDP camp implementation at the 6th SCI World Conference, India, led by SCI’s executive director, Ms. Julie Greene.
Creating solutions together
Background. Many solar cooker projects have been implemented in refugee camps since the early 1990’s. Despite evidence of significant fuel wood savings, and significant improvement in project design based on lessons learned, solar cooker adoption to meet the human environmental goals established by the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) is still elusive. Why?
Goal. Distill best practices from twenty-four years of camp project implementation experience. Plan a course of action to increase solar cooker adoption in the refugee and IDP settings.
Process. The Refugee and IDP Camp discussion at the 6th SCI World Conference will begin with oral presentations and a panel. Participants will then gather at roundtable sessions to strategize and identify next-step actions with the goal to meet human needs and provide energy access to the increasing number of political and climate refugees worldwide.
Take a seat at the table. The following people/organizations are expected to make presentations and/ or contribute to the discussion: Vajra Foundation Nepal, The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, Rachel Andres, Pat McArdle, a former UNHCR employee, Solar Clutch, Green Refugees, BISS, World Food Programme, and Relief International. All solar cooker partners are invited to join as space allows. The discussion and goal-setting will be facilitated by Julie Greene, Executive Director of Solar Cookers International.
Outputs. Discussion leaders will guide action and response to the following questions:
- What evidence of fuel savings and health impacts will UNHCR accept as valid from the solar cooking sector?
- What evidence do we provide as a sector?
- Which criteria does UNHCR consult when selecting clean cookstoves for camp implementation?
- Which refugee/ IDP camp would be best to focus the efforts of the solar cooking sector in 2017 and beyond, based on residents’ expressed, felt need for solar cooking?
- Identify implementing partners and commit to 3 – 5 year funding cycle for implementation.
History and Analysis
Most significant projects
- The Solar Cooker Project helps to improve the lives of Darfur refugees living in Chad - More than 50,000 people in four Darfur refugee camps in Eastern Chad are using locally made solar CooKits designed by Solar Cookers International. The project is run by Tchad Solaire and by the British NGO CORD. It is funded by Jewish World Watch and the Kozon Foundation. The project has improved the safety and survival of the women in the refugee camps. Previously, they were faced with dangerous and arduous trips outside the camps to collect scarce firewood.
- 85,000 refugees from Bhutan have solar cooked their meals in Nepal - The Vajra Foundation Holland (Stichting Vajra) has worked in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal since 1995 to bring solar cooking and heat-retention cooking to the refugees there. By 2013 some 85,000 refugees were cooking their meals using these methods. The on-the-ground work is done by Vajra Foundation Nepal and financing is provided by the Dutch Lottery and the Dutch NGO Stichting Vluchteling.
- See other Most significant solar cooking projects worldwide.
- September 2017: Webinar: Solar Cooking Sector Updates Refugee Working Group Call - SCI sponsored the refugee working group phone conversation on 21 September as part of the Sector Updates webinar. Godfrey Mawira submitted a summary of current projects in Kenya from the Eco-mandate Group. Eco-mandate efforts in Kenya - Godfrey Mawira
- May 2017: SuryaKumbh heads to Kakuma, Kenya - Vivek Kabra brought the spirt of Suryakumbh, literally, a festive gathering celebrating the power of the sun, to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. 500 families participated in learning to construct the Copenhagen Solar Cooker Light solar cooker, and then used them for a group meal preparation. Others helping make the project a success were Faustine Odaba and Roger Haines, who's reflective material was used in the cooker construction.
- March 2017: Refugee crisis strains Lebanon’s deficient electricity network - “The study highlights the necessity of generating an additional 486 megawatts to cater to the electricity usage of displaced Syrians,” Abi Khalil said. “In terms of cost, this is equivalent to $333 million per year. According to Robert Sfairy, the senior Energy Consultant to the Energy and Water Ministry, this energy expenditure comes from two primary sources: direct and indirect usage.” […] “In the short term, Sfairy said, many of the reports solutions focus on what he called “demand side” initiatives designed to reduce the burden on the national grid. “These include utilizing energy saving bulbs, solar water heaters and solar cooking kits. These can be implemented in many households, especially in rural and vulnerable areas.” More information...
- February 2017: A Kenyan court ruling has blocked the government’s decision to close the Dadaab Refugee Camp in November 2017. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp and home to more than 200,000 Somalians.
- January 2017: Several important commitments grew from the 6th SCI World Conference 2017 for solar cooking in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons. After Solar Cookers International (SCI) led discussions with experts and those implementing solar cooker projects in Bhutan, Nepal, Chad, Uganda, and many other locations, several plans and commitments occurred: 1) SCI formed a refugee working group to strategize for more solar cooker project implementation in camps and informal settlements; 2) A new partnership formed, leveraging the skills of a crowdfunder with on-the-ground experience in refugee settlements in Uganda; 3) A strategy to educate humanitarian aid donors who choose solar cooking for camps; 4) A data-driven target for solar cooker interventions to decrease wood fuel use by 10% (data indicate that solar cookers can save 40-50% of the wood fuel supplied to camp residents).
- January 2017: Solar Cooking KoZon reports: A very prominent project right now is the Nakivale refugee camp. It is located in South West Uganda in the Isingiro district. Approx. 60,000 refugees from neighbouring countries live in the Nakivale camp and have lived there for many years. Our programme, in cooperation with other organisations, contributes to better living conditions. The project objectives have been set down in a Memorandum of Understanding and its formal launch was held on Thursday 22 September 2016. The kick-off took place in a celebratory mood in the presence of the district governor and the camp commander. This is a 12-month project, a period during which at least 1,000 Solar CooKits will be supplied. The refugees will thus have access to solar cooking tools. At the same time a group of about 20 people received training in the use and upkeep of CooKits, hay baskets, WAPIs and eco stoves. The "instructor" represent their village(s) and will in turn pass on their knowledge to others.
- September 2016: The Solar Connect Association (SCA) visited the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda where they met with the Assistant Camp Commander, Mr. Kintu Khalid. SCA instructors trained 20 people from different villages to be instructors themselves. The training dealt with solar CooKits, Water Pasteurization Indicators, Heat-retention cooking, improved combustion stoves, and the maintenance of same. Continued efforts at Nakivale, and also at the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement, will be the priority for SCA in 2017. At Nakivale, SCA is currently working with the Julu camp that has about 22,000 refugees. They have distributed 60 solar cookers and 14 improved combustion stoves. In the Oruknga Refugee Settlement, they have distributed 70 solar cooker cookers and 12 improved combustion stoves. SCA plans to sell 1000 solar cookers in the two settlements by end of August 2017. Solar Cooking KoZon has contributed additional funding to help with the projects at Nakivale and Orukhinga.
- September 2016: The Solar Connect Association reports: "We had a staff meeting with the key players of manufacturing in Biharwe. We kicked off the project in the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement with the presence of the district governor, camp commander, and the project leader Mr. Buyinga Boaz. Additional information was handed over and demonstrations were made for many people. A local radio station broadcast an interview with one of our team members."
- September 2016: Renewed solar cooking workshops at Kenyan refugee camps - Solar cooking advocate, Faustine Odaba, and her daughter have been conducting solar cooking and fireless cooking workshops at the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.
- March 2016: Derk Rijks reports: The total number of refugee families served and awaiting has changed, increased at this moment to about 36,000 households, but obtaining donor money for the start-up until self-sufficiency is not easy. The villages around the camps are being served in the same manner as the refugees. May be able to give more details on all this by the end of this year.
- November 2015: Blazing Tube Solar Appliances in Burkina Faso refugee camps - UNHCR delivered Blazing Tube Solar Appliances to 601 households (1 per household), ranging from two to eight family members each. Feedback from the families indicate that the cooker has reduced their need for firewood. Read more...
- Solar cooker drawings by refugee users now available online - View drawings...
- February 2015: A refugee woman in Burkina Faso cooks rice with a Blazing Tube solar cooker. The stove is assembled in the USA and costs around $100USD. Oliver Lompo, UNHCR Environment Officer in Burkina Faso explained the impact the stove has had. “Beforehand, refugee women had to walk several hours a day to collect firewood. Since we have a lot of sunshine, the stove allows them to cook without spending any more time on firewood collection. And, more importantly, it does not produce any smoke - people love it.” - UNCHR
- January 2015: Scholarly paper documents the available sunshine in the Sahel region of Africa - Authors, Beth Newton, Sophie Cowie, Derk Rijks, Jamie Banks, Helen Brindley, and John h. Marsham have published a well-documented analysis of the potential sunshine available for solar cooking in the Sahel region, particularly in northern Chad. This is where a number of Sudanese refugee camps are located. TchadSolaire has been training both refugees and the indigenous population to solar cook in the region since 2005. Even along river population centers where clouds tend to form, solar cooking is possible for over 330 days a year. Read more: Solar Cooking in the Sahel - NOWCAST
- August 2014: Update on Jewish World Watch Solar Cooker Project - Jewish World Watch published their Summer 2014 Solar Cooker Project newsletter. It offers background information on their refugee camp projects, highlights of the latest developments, and how to support it moving forward. Jewish World Watch reports that it has distributed approximately 128,000 CooKits with participation rates of 75% to 100% in the camps where they have worked: Kounoungou, Mile, Oure Cassoni, Touloum, and Iridimi. They also plan to provide an additional cooking pot for 10,000 families. More info...
- October 2013: Refugees learn to make ‘do it yourself’ solar-powered stove - The Jordan Times
- January 2012: Jewish World Watch has provided a grant of $200,000 USD to the UK NGO Cord to provide CooKits to refugees at the Farchana Refugee Camp in Chad. This new project brings the number of refugee camps where solar cooking projects are underway to ten.
- (See individual refugee camp pages below for more extensive news.)
Best Practices Manual
Goal of survey: to determine if solar cooking is an expressed, felt need by the residents in a specific refugee or IDP settlement. Based on FAO survey.
Manufactured solar cookers suitable for transport
The solar cookers shown below are easily transportable and also may be available in large quantities:
Refugee camps with current solar cooking projects
- Touloum Refugee Camp
- Iridimi Refugee Camp
- Oure Cassoni Refugee Camp
- Gaga Refugee Camp
- Farchana Refugee Camp
- Am Nabak Refugee Camp
- Kounoungou Refugee Camp
- Mile Refugee Camp
Refugee camps with past solar cooking projects
- Gorom Gorom Refugee Camp (Burkina Faso)
- Aisha Refugee Camp (Ethiopia)
- Osire Refugee Camp (Namibia)
- Kasab Refugee Camp (Namibia)
- Zalingei Refugee Camp (Sudan)
- February 2014: Cord Solar Cooker Project Final Evaluation
- November 1998: Evaluation of Energy-Saving Options for Refugees - UNHCR-Geneva
- October 1996: The Experience of UNHCR and its Partners with Solar Cookers in Refugee Camps - UNHCR-Geneva
- NEW: January 2018: Prices, Products and Priorities: Meeting Refugees’ Energy Needs in Burkina Faso and Kenya - Drew Corbyn and Mattia Vianello
- January 2017: 21st-Century Solutions To Ancient Cooking Problems: Displaced Persons and Solar Cooking - Julie Greene
- January 2017: Box Type and Panel Type Solar Cookers Which can be Used as Cartons to Contain the Emergency Stuffs - Nguessan Oufle Amalama Christian, Serika Miyashita, Sumio Shuto, and Yuichi Nakajo
- January 2017: How Vajra Foundation’s Solar Cooker Project in the Bhutanese Refugee Camps in Eastern Nepal Became One of the Largest in the World – and How This Success has been Used to Kindle Environmentalism in Nepal - Maarten Olthof
- January 2017: On the Construction and Users Acceptance of Funnel Concrete Solar Cooker (poster) (slides) - Celestino Rodrigues Ruivo
- January 2017: Performance Testing of a Portable Stored Solar Thermal Energy Cooking System - Household Energy Without Fuel, Fire, or Emissions - Matthew Paul Alonso, Keilin Jahnke, Catherine Zhou, and Dr. Bruce Elliott-Litchfield
- January 2017: The Use of Solar Cookers in Refugee Camps - Patricia McArdle
- January 2017: What Would be a Sustainable Water Pasteurization Indicator (WAPI) Producing Method for Developing Countries? (slides) - Akihiko Kumagai
- Solar Cooker Project: Best Practices Manual - Jewish World Watch
Articles in the media
- September 2017: A Maker’s Journey to Help Refugees Cook Food with the Sun - Makezine
- June 2017: Solar energy powers clean water, business opportunities for refugees - CNBC Africa
- December 2016: Energy access to displaced people - Utilities-me.com
- July 2016: Environmentalists Deeply Concerned With Firewood Consumption in Refugee Camps - allAfrica
- December 2013: Alameda Rotary’s Interact clubs - SFGate - Alameda Rotary's Interact clubs are looking to raise money to send 5170 solar cookers to refugees in Afghanistan.
- October 2013: Refugees learn to make ‘do it yourself’ solar-powered stove - The Jordan Times
- April 2009: CHAD: Daily needs squeeze dwindling resources in east - Irin Africa
- February 2009: Simple Tool That Saves Women's Lives - Parade Magazine
- December 2008: Alternative Fuels Take Root in Refugee Camps
- November 2008: LAist Interview: Rachel Andres of the Solar Cooker Project - LAist
- August 2008: Working to End Darfurian Genocide - Larchmont Chronicle
- June 2004: Solar cooker offers ray of hope for refugee environment - UNHCR
Audio and video
- May 2017:
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- January 2017:
- March 2015:
- January 2015:
- March 2013:
- June 2012:
- July 2011:
- July 2010:
- May 2010:
- April 2009:
- Cooking for large groups
- Derk Rijks
- Integrated Cooking Method
- Jewish World Watch
- KoZon Foundation
- Partnership for Clean Indoor Air
- Promoting solar cooking
- Refugee camp projects in Chad since 2003
- Solar Cookers International
- Stephen and Sheila Harrigan
- Vajra Foundation Holland
- Commercial water pasteurization devices
- Water pasteurization
- An interview with Dr. Bob Metcalf discussing the use of solar water pasteurizers in refugee camps
- Solar cooking and health - Dar Curtis
- Q&A: In search of cheaper, safer fuel for refugees
- All solar cooking manufacturers on Alibaba.com