Why Women?

At the end of 2014, UNHCR stated that there were 59.5 million forcibly displaced people due to war, conflict and disaster.1 One of the key issues many of the people are facing on a daily basis is access to energy resources and proper cooking products.

Throughout many refugee camps, the task of collecting firewood and cooking falls on women. Having little access to clean and sustainable solutions, they spend as much as 5 hours each day gathering firewood for cooking. Women are by far the most affected by the negative consequences from firewood collection and health hazards of open fire cooking.

Nevertheless, women are just not victims from the inefficiency of energy and cooking. Their involvement in acceptance and recognition of clean cookstoves and sustainable energy is essential to its distribution and adaptation. Being the ones who collect and cook, they are the leading users and consumers of more sustainable energy resources and products. They’re input and opinion in what they use and need help in the development process of alternative solutions. They’re voice is essential in the future of a more sustainable planet.

Photo taken by Triboulot David


Access to Fuel

Many refugees use what is readily available and familiar to them. Although energy use is dependent on camps and its location, findings show that the main source of fuel for many IDPs in refugee households is firewood and charcoal. According to Chatham House, some 35 percent of displaced households surveyed reported having to skip meals during the previous week because they did not have enough fuel to cook with. In the same survey, 28 percent of households reported undercooking meals in the same period for the same reason.2 This trend is similar across many refugee camps.

In order to have energy resources, women and young girls leave the camp premises in search for firewood. They risk their safety and health to cook for their families. Women and girls have to travel farther and farther as trees within the vicinity have been cut down, increasing the risk of harm.


Safety Hazards

Case: South Sudan (Al Jazeera)

Women in Bentiu in South Sudan, search for wood on a daily basis to cook food for their families. During their search, they run the risk of rape and violence from the South Sudanese soldiers. Women from the refugee camp are aware of the dangers and take risks for the survival of their children.

Mary a 24-year old woman was forced to take her two small children to the displacement camp as a result of war. Alongside other women, Mary would walk to the bush to collect firewood. She stated that one day, she and a group of women were gang-raped at gunpoint by soldiers.

“We were almost as good as dead. After they did a bad deed and they leave you like that, you’re good as dead. You’re useless. All that’s left is that they shoot us.”3

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Case: Tanzania (WFP)

More than 100,000 Burundian Refugees have sought safety in Tanzania. Many have sought safety in the Nyarugusu refugee camp, joining the 66,000 Congolese refugees who have been living there for decades. The women have to travel outside the camps in search for natural resources, including firewood. There have been many reports of sexual assault during the collection of firewood. The International Rescue Committee reports an average three to four incidents of sexual assaults during firewood collection per week in Nyarugusu.


“They can pull you into the thorns, hurt all your body, tear all your clothes and leave you with wounds,” said one woman from the village of Losikait, in the Moroto district of Karamoja.  “I know of women in this community who have been killed by warriors. In fact all of us – young girls and adult women who collect firewood – are all at high risk.”4


Case: Dollo Ado (UNHCR)

UNHCR’s Energy Lab visited and conducted 40 interviews in the Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado camps. One of the main issues in the camps was the shortage of sustainable fuel for cooking.

The open fires used within the camps consume large amounts of wood, and “because trees are scarce in this desert region, it heightens the tensions between refugees and host communities.” The rapid depletion of the scarce native acacia tree has caused the government of Ethiopia to ban its harvest.

Women and girls are forced to travel further as the trees diminish, putting them in risk of assault.

“Refugees in Dollo Ado needed a safer, more fuel-efficient way to cook. And it was a problem they were confident that with some support from UNHCR, they could address themselves.”5


 WHS deforestation problem

Health Hazards

In addition to safety hazards, women and children are also exposed to detrimental health issues from using harmful fuel sources. Many refugee households primarily use damaging forms of fuel such as firewood, LPG, charcoal, or kerosene as a form of energy. An estimation of 20,000 forcibly displaced people die prematurely every year as a result of pollution from indoor fires. Many other women and having children near by are exposed to long lasting health problems such as lung or eye diseases.

Implementing clean cookstoves within refugee camps can provide smokeless cooking, reducing the number of deaths and health problems resulting from Household Air Pollution. Advanced cookstoves, such as the ACE 1, will effectively eliminate black carbon emissions reducing harmful particulates to negligible levels.


Gender Equality

By reducing the reliance on firewood, women and children will be able to lead a less arduous lifestyle.

  • Women and girls will be able to spend less time collecting and carrying firewood.
  • Women will be able to save money and time to pursue opportunities of their choice.
  • Girls will have time to go to school and participate in the community.
  • Women and girls no longer put themselves at daily risk of rape and abuse.

Women and children matter so #EnergyMatters.

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1 http://www.unhcr.org/556725e69.pdf
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