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World’s first solar farm to power a refugee camp gets switched on

The refugee camp in Jordan’s Azraq became the first of its kind in the world to be powered by a solar farm. The panels will provide energy to the 20,000 Syrian refugees stationed there and it will also help Jordan reduce its CO2 emissions by 2,370 tons per year. The cost, over 8 million euros, was covered with help from Ikea Foundation.

The UNHCR announced that it switched on the production of a solar panel plant at the refugee camp in Jordan’s Azraq. The 2-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant will provide energy to the 20,000 Syrian refugees sheltered in Azraq and which, until now, only had random access to electricity. According to the UNHCR, the plant will offer sufficient energy so that every family living in the 5,000 shelters will be able to power a fridge, a tv, a fan while also having lighting and being able to charge their phones.

The Azraq camp was opened in April 2014 and providing refugees with electricity has been a great challenge, authorities say, and it also made daily chores difficult for refugees living there.

The Azraq’s solar farm is the first solar plant built in a refugee setting and will allow UNHCR to provide free energy to the camp, in a country where the costs of electricity are high.

The solar farm was funded by the Ikea Foundation’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign and will result in savings of $ 1.5 million per year while contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions by 2,370 tons, every year.

“Today marks a milestone. Lighting up the camp is not only a symbolic achievement; it provides a safer environment for all camp residents, opens up livelihoods opportunities, and gives children the chance to study after dark. Above all, it allows all residents of the camps to lead more dignified lives,” said Kelly T. Clements, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner. “Once again the partnership between IKEA Foundation and UNHCR has shown how we can embrace new technologies, innovation and humanity while helping refugees.”

The current plant can also be upgraded, from 2-megawatts to 5-megawatts. In this case, it will increase its capacity and will be able to meet the needs of all Azraq. Connected to the national grid, any extra electricity generated will be sent back free of cost, supporting the host community energy needs.

Construction also helped camp refugees by offering up jobs. 50 refugees who have been trained and employed to help build the solar farm and some of them will remain hired to help with maintenance.

The IKEA foundation covered the 8,5 million euro costs of the plant as part of the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign that raised 30.8 million euro for UNHCR projects. For each LED light-bulb sold during the campaign period, the Ikea Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR to bring renewable energy and education to refugees.

“The world’s first solar farm in a refugee camp signals a paradigm shift in how the humanitarian sector supports displaced populations. UNHCR Jordan will save millions of dollars while reducing carbon emissions and improving living conditions for some of the world’s most vulnerable children and families”, said Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation. “We are very grateful to everyone involved—especially the IKEA customers and co-workers who took part in the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, the UNHCR, the Jordanian government, EDCO, and most of all, the Syrian and Jordanian people who made this project a reality”, he concluded.

UNHCR is considering providing renewable energy sources to refugees and their host communities as a priority. It is estimated that presently, over 63 million people have been displaced 21.3 million of them becoming refugees. UNHCR data shows that over half of refugees come from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria and most of them are hosted by Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan.

According to the United Nations, we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.

The United Nations and human rights watchdogs have repeatedly warned about the need to improve conditions in refugee camps especially when it comes to issues like hygiene, sanitation, proper housing and electricity.

All these make refugees particularly vulnerable to disease and mental illness.

Sylvia Jacob