Under the umbrella of the United Nations is the United Nations High Commission for Refugee’s (UNHCR). The High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. A significant responsibility.
Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) is a recent focus of the UNHCR. For background, SAFE is a cross-sector issue that focuses on ensuring access to fuel and energy for cooking, heating, lighting, and powering for crisis-affected populations. This is a critical need to be addressed as safe and sustainable access to energy is being increasingly recognized as a human right—essential for the safety, well-being, and productivity of the people the humanitarian community serves. At the start of 2015, I was brought onto the Advisory Board of UNHCR’s Energy and Environment Unit, becoming the youngest adviser on the board.
This week, we gathered in Geneva, Switzerland for two days to advise UNHCR on their current efforts to execute on the 2014-2018 Strategy; you can access the strategy here. As part of the workshop, we evaluated various interventions, from clean cook stoves to reduce indoor air pollution associated with cooking, solar powered street lights for safety, to the use of off-grid renewable energy systems to decrease UNHCR’s reliance on fossil fuels. Being an agency of the United Nations, it’s fundamental to their mandate that we lead by example and demonstrate solutions that are culturally appropriate, cost-effective and scalable.
This is not an easy task as no refugee camp is the same, but there are routine methodologies that can be applied to assess, measure, analyze, improve and control the interventions. With this strategy, we’ll certainly see our ups and downs; but this is an incredible opportunity to implement solutions that solve some of the most pressing social and environmental problems of humanity.