As you know, I conducted a workshop in Addis Abeba in october. Present at the workshop were ARRA (Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs), the UNHCR, the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Center and Networkhttp://www.hoarec.org/, Mekelle University (Mechanical Faculty), the Gaia Project and the Former Fuel Wood Carriers Association.
The workshop took place following a visit in three refugee camps surrounding the town of Jijiga in Eastern Ethiopia. Together with at team of 3 master students of industrial design engineering and my supervisor, we used the Gaia Project as a starting point to understand the issue of energy access in refugee camps. The Gaia Project and the national partner The Gaia Association distributes ethanol stoves for the UNHCR in order to stop deforestation around camps.
Issues raised during the workshop were numerous. However, I would like to draw your attention to the following statement:
“There is no effective organization to do this.There is no organization doing this activity except Gaia association. Because this activity has its own work, people have to do many things, so most organizations do not want to do this activity and then to protect the environment”.
This participant refers to the work of bringing together local partners, end-users, providing and distributing fuel and staying long-term in a country until a product and a system has been established by them. This is the success factor of the Gaia Project, without going into the fuel access debate.
According to the participants in my previous study, most technology suppliers working in immediate emergencies and with humantiarian customers have little overview over what happens to their product after they hand it over to the customer. This gives little room for improvement of the product they deliver.
Of course, they are struggling with the same challenges as anyone trying to make this change: lack of funding, lack of fuel access, changing governments and fuel policies. But they have stayed for more than eight years, trying to implement local production and effecting policy makers. In the end, the UNHCR Environmental branch in Ethiopia told me that the ethanol stove is by far the stove that has gained the highest acceptancy in refugee camps, and our visits to women in Kebri Beyah refugee camps proved this. Unfortunately, the envirnonment around the camps in Eastern Ethiopia is already severe and the hope of UNHCR and WFP is that such interventions can be made sooner.
It is true that the design of the Gaia stove was welcomed by the women we visited, easy to use and maintain. Still, the way that Gaia has set up a system of maintenance, ethanol distribution and training of skilled staff has to be added. Then the question remains, how can this type of system be connected to the local communities and also be scaled up faster during an emergency? Who will finance the build up of functional systems and how can they be economically sustainable during a transitional phase onto a future recilient community?
Bringing together the needs of humanitarian sector with long-term and context based issues is a job that requries long term engagement and trust building. This is something that humanitarian actors do not have the capacitiy to do within the restrictions of the humanitairan market.