Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children leads international push for solutions
New York, NY - Humanitarians from around the world gathered in India last week for the first-ever international conference dedicated to the search for fuels and energy technologies that can be used as alternatives to firewood, such as clean-burning fuels, fuel-efficient stoves and solar cookers.
Vulnerable refugee and displaced women and girls are at risk of rape, beatings—even murder—when they leave their camps in search of the wood they need to cook food for their families, or to sell. When burned inside the home, firewood releases toxic fumes that threaten the health of the entire family, and the mass cutting of trees leads to severe deforestation in already unstable environments.
Held on December 11 and 12 in New Delhi and hosted by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, the Beyond Firewood Conference brought together about 100 engineers and scientists, technology groups, local and international humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, donors, governments, environmental agencies and academics—all mobilized to create and develop new options for fuel for displaced populations.
"Over the course of two very industrious days, we tried to bridge the gap between the people who develop exciting new technologies for cooking and the people who will ultimately use them—refugees, the displaced, and the poor all over the world," said Carolyn Makinson, the Women's Commission's Executive Director. "We believe we've succeeded, and we're thrilled to get this critical conversation started among those who really must be talking to each other."
The Women's Commission has long recognized the need to fundamentally change the way the humanitarian community tackles the issue. With its partners, InterAction, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program (WFP), the Women's Commission has led an 18-month inter-agency effort to build an effective and affordable response to fuel needs in diverse settings around the world. The Beyond Firewood Conference was a critical part of this effort.
Dr. Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt Movement, kicked off the conference with a call to "Dream big, have hope." In nearly 20 presentations held over two days, attendees did just that by sharing ideas, successes and failures, and developed relationships for cooperation on future projects. The conference brought new participants into the humanitarian fold, and opened the eyes of humanitarians to potential new options for fuel technologies that would lessen the need to use firewood.
In her closing statements, Erin Patrick, senior program officer of the Women's Commission's Fuel and Firewood Initiative, recognized that the challenges for a coordinated response are great, but stressed that the base of knowledge among advocates for alternatives is growing. Patrick explained that key to a successful fuel strategy are communication and coordination among all agencies and organizations involved in the issue.
Much discussed at the conference was the concept of "integrated" cooking—using complementary technologies at different times of the day. For example, using a clean-burning stove in the morning before the sun rises and later when it falls, and a solar cooker when the sun burns hot overhead.
On the issue of sustainability, experts at the conference agreed that:
Because of the multi-faceted nature of the problem, there is no effective way of addressing any part of fuel response in isolation, and there are no "magic bullets." There are different needs in different regions: sub-Saharan Africa receives more consistent sunlight than other regions; Ethiopia is endowed with natural resources such as sugar cane for alcohol fuel production. There are unique needs for different populations: refugees affected by war, civil conflict and natural disasters; internally displaced people; urban and rural populations; and refugees who are left homeless by the growing threat of climate change—each face particular challenges concerning mobility and resources.
The Beyond Firewood Conference was a significant first step in developing a coordinated approach to these critical fuel needs. Attendees agreed that the approach must be institutionalized and that the humanitarian community must be held accountable for progress.
By continuing to build upon the findings and momentum from New Delhi, the growing Fuel Network (the Women's Commission-led International Network on Household Energy in Humanitarian Settings), will help to reduce the risk of violence faced by millions of women and girls during firewood collection and lessen the devastating effects of indoor air pollution and environmental degradation.
For more information on the issue, go to:www.getbeyondfirewood.org
For more information on the fuel network, go to: www.fuelnetwork.org