“The cooking place is the heart of the house”

I just had a very nice and interesting conversation with Ms. Blanche Renaudin from Groupe URD, concerning energy problems and environment in refugee camps.

Groupe URD is a research, evaluation and training institute. Their area of expertise is humanitarian action and post-crisis reconstruction, with the aim to help improve practices
and consequently improve the situation of crisis-affected people.

Ms. Renaudin has conducted several evaluations in Chad , and her expertise is on environmental issues. Chad is one of the countries where the natural resource scarcity (especially firewood) have proven fatal for some refugees.

 Among other things, Blanche emphasized the need for long-term thinking and planning ahead from the beginning of a humanitarian relief operation. Also, one should be able to foresee the possible damages of a camp in order to prevent this by right
sanitation/replantation/fuel efficiency programmes. An interesting point for
the product developer is also that even in Chad, there is no one-fits-all
solution (according to Ms. Renaudin) and that the issue of technology acceptance differ in each of the 12 camps in eastern Chad. Also, the implementation methods differ in each camp and this affects the result.

We also discussed that facilitating local production may create more long-term benefits
than importing fuel-efficient stoves and that this will have an over-all lower carbon impact.
Imported stoves can also be seen as capital and be stolen or sold instead of
used for cooking. This may require more long-term planning from the implementors and more background research in each case in order to succeed.

Also, my idea of the cooking and the heat representing an axe of normality in an emergency situation was strengthened, with Blanche telling me how people preferred to have an open fire to gather around for social reasons, rather than a metal construction.
This one may be a hard nut to crack for even for a designer?

As Blanche remarks, the concept of an improved stove can only be a closed design, however it is a matter of developing habits within a household. For example, cooking has to be possible at a certain time of the day. Then later, a solar cooker can be improved for example as a part of a longer term technology acceptance strategy.


About Brita Fladvad Nielsen

I'm a Postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. My focus is on Smart Energy Communities in urban settings as well as design of energy-devices for emergency settings and design for humanitarian markets, especially for refugee camps in rural areas of Africa. I blog about my research approach Design Thinking on www.designthinkingresearch.wordpress.com and about humanitarian design at www.designforselfreliance.wordpress.com . I am also a mother of a child who is deaf, and I blog about her language development on Aurorasittsprak.wordpress.com
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