Most of the food provided by humanitarian agencies must be cooked before it can be eaten, but cookstoves and fuel are rarely provided. As a result, women and children must risk their safety, health, and sometimes their lives, to search for and collect firewood in order to cook food over smoky, polluting open fires. In many cases, displaced women walk for hours to find firewood and have to carry heavy loads back to camp, which puts them at risk for physical and sexual attack, dehydration, and physical injuries. At night, lack of access to lighting further increases women’s vulnerability when navigating camps to use latrines and other services.
Women and children are also exposed to health risks, including respiratory infections from smoke produced by inefficient stoves and fuels such as firewood. Children who collect firewood, or accompany their mothers, cannot attend school. Many refugees sell or exchange a portion of their food rations in order to procure the firewood needed to cook the remaining food. Such coping mechanisms can have serious consequences including malnutrition.
In situations where firewood is the main source of fuel, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, the competition for dwindling natural resources is a trigger for tension between refugees and host communities. The collection of firewood by refugees can cause deforestation and environmental degradation, which can be long lasting and difficult to reverse. It can also lead to a ban on firewood collection, which prevents refugees from cooking their food and leads to devastating consequences for their nutrition.
Clean Cooking Solutions
Ensuring access to cookstoves and fuels for vulnerable populations has been a component of the Alliance strategy since its launch. Refugees, IDPs, and other crisis-affected populations often can’t afford to purchase clean cookstoves and fuel, yet they suffer disproportionately from the consequences of lack of access to cooking technologies and fuel.
The Alliance’s expert Humanitarian Working Group recommended that the Alliance’s strategy build on the work of the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) Steering Committee (formerly the IASC SAFE Task Force), a consortium of humanitarian organizations whose mission is to facilitate a more coordinated, predictable, timely, and effective response to the fuel and energy needs of crisis-affected populations.
Today, the Alliance co-chairs the SAFE Steering Committee and coordinates the group’s global activities. The SAFE Steering Committee members, including UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, FAO, and WRC among others, crisis-affected populations are able to satisfy their fuel and energy needs for cooking, heating, lighting, and powering in a safe and sustainable manner, without fear or risk to their health, well-being, and personal security.
The Alliance’s internal humanitarian strategy contributes directly to the vision, mission, and global strategy outlined by the SAFE Steering Committee. The Alliance’s humanitarian engagement falls into six strategic pillars and will take place globally, as well as in SAFE focus countries:
- Pillar 1: Coordinate the SAFE sector and share information
- Pillar 2: Commission research and build evidence
- Pillar 3: Provide technical support, tools, and guidance for implementation
- Pillar 4: Build human resource capacity
- Pillar 5: Advocate for the sector
- Pillar 6: Mobilize resources
Safe and reliable access to energy for cooking, lighting, and powering is a basic need. Creating programs to improve Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) saves lives and protects livelihoods in emergencies and crisis settings by integrating energy needs into emergency preparedness and response, improving access to household fuel and lighting using appropriate technologies and renewable energy, increasing access to energy for schools, health centers, and other institutions, and establishing and managing sustainable forestry resources for fuel provision and environmental protection.