Renewable energy solutions in refugee settings

25 MAY 2019

Ramadan is always special. It is when families and communities come together; whether to share a meal, or to support those in need. We look back on the years before just as the month starts – it is that catalytic and the memories we hold are that dear. However, for millions of people, Ramadan has become a memory of what once was; busy dining rooms and laughter with loved ones who are sorely missed. A growing number of refugee and displaced families now observe Ramadan separated from those they love and their communities, far from their homes, yet showing insurmountable resilience. These families inspire us every minute and to them, we extend our warmest wishes not only for the Holy Month, but because their strength and courage move us all. 

The speed in which displacement is occurring is truly alarming. Thirty-one people are newly displaced every minute. That means that if you are reading this in a small office, all of your colleagues would be gone over and over again every minute.  With continuing crises across every corner of the globe, in Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen, the number of people who have been forced to flee stands at 68.5 million forcibly displaced worldwide, including 25.4 million refugees who crossed an international border in search of safety. 
Yet amid this troubling backdrop, the international community has failed to bring conflicts to an end, leaving millions of men, women and children in exile for decades. It becomes prohibitively expensive for UNHCR to continue implementing emergency humanitarian measures for protracted periods of time. With refugees in exile for longer periods, it is no longer enough to provide short-term humanitarian relief. Rather, we have to think of longer term development models – including ensuring access to education, to livelihoods and employment, and to sustainable forms of energy. 

Access to energy, once considered a luxury but now a priority for basic survival, is another integral issue. 90% of refugees living in camps lack access to electricity and 80% rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking. Global issues such as food insecurity, environmental degradation, and climate change only exacerbate the situation further. Water scarcity is a growing problem in the face of climate change, especially in the dry seasons. Lack of access to water, a necessity for survival, results in detrimental effects to refugees and displaced persons’ health, safety and wellbeing. 

As part of UNHCR’s prioritization of the use of renewable energy within our comprehensive and sustainable response UNHCR installed solar plants at the refugee camps of Azraq and Zaatari in 2017 in Jordan. The plants transformed the lives of over 120,000 Syrian refugee families. The plants not only provided livelihood opportunities for some refugees working at the plant, but families are now able to power their shelters, run essential electrical appliances, recharge their phones, study and work after dark, and walk safely at night. Moreover, the Azraq plant has helped save around $2 million each year, while, the Zaatari plant is expected to decrease operational costs by US$5.5 million annually while reducing annual CO2 emissions from the camp by 13,000 tonnes. If anything, this has proved that renewable and sustainable energy solutions are sound investments both from a budgetary and an environmental perspective. 

Another challenge we face is location. The vast majority of refugees today are hosted in low and middle-income countries, which, often lack the proper infrastructure to support large numbers of displaced persons. In remote and off-grid locations, we rely on generator diesel fuel to power our installations. In many low-income countries, refugees and host communities compete for dwindling natural resources, leading to tensions and clashes. 

In Diffa region in Niger, UNHCR partnered with the Nigerien Government and the private sector to introduce liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to the region. While initial costs were high, as demand increased, LPG prices dropped well below the price of wood. Rather, former woodcutters and firewood collectors are receiving training in sustainable small-hold farming schemes. While in Rwanda, a remarkable project has led to the production of fuel-efficient stoves requiring 80% less wood to achieve the same performance. UNHCR has subsequently expanded these initiatives in Sahel countries, Tanzania, and, most recently, in Bangladesh.

It is clear that the status-quo is incredibly complex. We cannot do it alone. While the upsurge in humanitarian crises in recent years has brought in greater levels of funding for humanitarian organizations from foreign aid and private donations, this has not been sufficient to meet the needs of the 68.5 million men, women and children forced to flee their homes. UNHCR rarely receives more than 50% of its budgetary needs, which has a direct effect on the lives of people at need. 50% funding translates into 50% of projects, including energy, being implemented and thus affecting the quality of life of millions. The lack of funding is often times a matter of life or death.

For UNHCR alone, our estimated costs spent on generators and fuel are above USD 100 million per year. Chatham House says that the humanitarian sector as a whole spent about USD 1.2 billion dollars on diesel, petrol and associated generator costs in 2017. Some of our biggest expenses are spent on pumping water, temperature-controlled warehouses, medical and educational facilities, as well as refugee shelters and businesses, among others. Renewable energy solutions tackle this financial problem. 

There is no doubt that without light, heat, power and mobility self-reliance cannot be achieved. We have found that renewable energy systems present a unique opportunity for greater aid effectiveness, not only in providing affordable, safe and sustainable energy solutions, but also through spurring sustainable economic growth, generating development opportunities, and creating jobs within both refugee and host communities. This is very much in line with the New York Declaration, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and Global Compact on Refugees. We hope that this Ramadan would reinforce the human solidarity and empathy, and encourage people to give what they can to ensure that no one is left behind.

By Ayat El Dewary


26 JUN 2019

Shaping water production in the region

ENGIE is one of the leading Independent Water and Power Project (IWPP) developers and producers in the world, with a strong regional footprint in the GCC dating back 30 years.

Discussions at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week earlier this year centred around ENGIE’s proven world class capabilities and experience in water production, with a view to understanding the main themes and technological trends that will impact and shape water production in the region in the coming years.

With a total gross portfolio of generating more than 30 GW of power and over 5.7 million cubic meters of desalinated water production in operation per day, in line with their commitment to enhancing their investments in the region, ENGIE are aiming to increase their asset portfolio, with a strong focus on the more energy efficient process of Seawater Reverse Osmosis (SWRO).

Historically thermal desalination has been a fundamental part of many power and water projects in the region. More recently however, SWRO has been added to either enhance thermal desalination or replace it entirely, providing the ability to “decouple” the production of water from power generation assets and thereby carefully synchronising with each very specific demand cycle.

This has the benefit of reducing the challenges of having ‘must run’ cogeneration to produce water during the lowest periods of electricity demand. In addition, the use of reverse osmosis (RO) has been proven to be more energy efficient thereby reducing costs and the impact on the environment.

Consequently, the region is witnessing a great deal of interest in medium sized and large SWRO desalination projects. The UAE is at the forefront of this transition and has already launched large scaleRO projects, such as Mirfa IWPP, which includes a 30 MIGD SWRO desalination component as well as Fujairah F2 where 30 MIGD of the 130 MIGD total desalination capacity is based on reverse osmosis, both of which have been successfully developed by ENGIE, as global leader in the technology in partnership with the local authorities and are currently in operation.

World standard expertise and experience in developing and operating large scale RO projects, are key to being able to contribute and assist the relevant authorities in the region to transition towards a more efficient water production future. ENGIE is at the forefront of working with and developing the latest water production technology and benefits from extensive in-house operating experience, including partnerships with first class contractors and can negotiate with financing institutions to secure the best available procurement and financing terms. As demonstrated by a proven track record in Abu Dhabi, in delivering the most cost-effective yet efficient and reliable power and water production in the Emirate.

Leading in-house operations, engineering excellence and maintenance expertise is absolutely vital to operate both reverse osmosis and thermal desalination plants in parallel, which must be backed up with very high efficiency in order to lower the carbon footprint.

Above all, key providers in the water generation and power industry must be fundamentally committed to delivering best-in-class solutions that minimise the impact on the environment, by implementing action plans to avoid, reduce and if necessary, compensate them while optimally managing the resources at its disposal. ENGIE for example is most focussed on providing technical solutions to mitigate the environmental impact in the following areas:

  • Climate change, leading to the global warming of the atmosphere and oceans, but also the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events caused by the increase in emissions of greenhouse gases due to the consumption of fossil fuels.
  • The management of water resources whether it is fresh, drinkable or wastewater treatment.
  • Biodiversity management in different environments or territories potentially impacted by human activities.
  • The management of air quality and the issue of green mobility.
  • The more general challenge of intelligent management of all resources consumed and the waste produced to propagate a circular and sustainable economy.

By Sébastien Arbola / Chief Executive Officer of ENGIE Middle East, South & Central Asia and Turkey Business Unit


26 MAY 2019

Saving lives with pink bags

Sanku received the Zayed Sustainability Prize at ADSW 2019 in the Food category

Globally, an estimated 155 million children aged under five are suffering from the effects of poor nutrition, The impact of this ‘hidden hunger’ in developing countries is often stunted physical and mental development. That in turn holds back the potential of those individuals and the social and economic development of whole countries. 

Felix Brooks-church, cofounder and CEO of Sanku, is on the path to end malnutrition using a creative flour bag business model, already reaching close to two million people across Africa.
Felix first saw the negative impact of hidden hunger more than a decade ago whilst volunteering in Cambodia, running an education and health center for at-risk street children. Though able to help those children suffering from malnutrition, he grew frustrated that this was just a band-aid to the underlying problem. 

Felix wanted to find a way to prevent children from being born into communities where their life chances are limited simply due to a low nutrient diet. “16,000 children die everyday from preventable sicknesses. This must stop!” said Felix. He has dedicated his life since to that goal.  

This led him to look at building a basic machine to automate the process of adding a cocktail of key vitamin and minerals to the cereal grains as they are being milled into flour at the village level. Felix took over the engineering in 2010, and started designing what is now called the ‘dosifier’ for small-scale fortification. 

By 2011 this dosifier machine was ready for field stress testing, and so Felix found himself bumping along a poorly maintained dirt road, up and down mountains for six hours to get to the tiny secluded village of Sankhu in Nepal. He had tears in his eyes when the initial machine was installed in the local mill, switched on and fully worked for the first time. It was a eureka moment, and the village celebrated.   

The success in Nepal attracted international attention - and offers of funding - encouraging the team to move to East Africa in 2013. Felix set up a new operation in Tanzania, where over one-third of child deaths are due to undernutrition.

The initial response to the dosifier was extremely positive and that attracted the attention of then Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, who came to see it in 2014. Felix explained what he was trying to achieve to President Kikwete whilst he inspected the dosifier. After a nervous pause, the President said, “can you build one of these for every mill in the country?”

It was a great result but created a daunting challenge for Felix and his team to scale their venture to the over 3000 small mills spread across Tanzania, a country four times the size of the United Kingdom. 

Felix knew he had to professionalise the operation in Tanzania to have any chance of grasping the opportunity and thus cofounded – Sanku – a non-profit organization named in honour of the tiny Nepali village of Sankhu where the adventure had begun.

Over the next three years he installed 150 dosifiers, reaching half a million people, and worked hard to improve the economics. 

Firstly, Felix had to find a supplier for the key vitamins and nutrients to add to the flour, and so he partnered up with Mühlenchemie, one of the leading suppliers of micronutrient premixes in Africa.

Felix also partnered with Vodafone to add a cellular module to each dosifier machine so that one Sanku manager could now monitor up to 100 rural mills remotely using an app on their smartphone, significantly reducing Sanku’s operating costs, enabling them to reach millions.   

But the biggest breakthrough was the launching of Sanku’s Pink Bag Model. Recognizing that small millers could not afford the extra cost of fortification, Felix developed a business model where Sanku could provide bulk purchased empty flour bags – branded in bright pink for ease of monitoring – plus the nutrients for the same overall price that Tanzanian millers had previously paid for just their empty flour bags alone, affectively neutralizing the extra cost of fortification. Miller compliance skyrocketed, and now almost 400 millers have since joined the pink bag program. 

The pink bag idea has been transformative to the Sanku model and has enabled the charitable business – still only 20 people – to expand its operations to cover five East African countries, and a clear path to expand reach to 100 million people by 2025. 

What started with a single mill and a few hundred villagers in the hills outside Kathmandu, Felix now has ambitious, but increasingly realistic plans to change the lives of a few hundred million people globally. “I will never forget where we came from, and that memorable afternoon in Sankhu village seven years ago,” said Felix. “It keeps my vision firmly fixed on the future, a future bright pink and without hidden hunger.”

To learn more and find out how you can support this work, please visit  

By Felix Brooks-church / Cofounding President & CEO, Sanku


26 MAY 2019

Moving to a low-carbon future – why banks and companies need to step up

The clock is ticking on climate change. We currently have more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere than at any time in human history. 

As a result of our increasing economic activity, scientists estimate that, under one potential scenario, average temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. The consequences of that would be catastrophic for humanity. And the most alarming thing is that scientists call this scenario ‘business-as-usual’. 

But this does not have to be the outcome. The term ‘business-as-usual’ itself implies that there must be an ‘unusual’ alternative that leads to a different outcome. We at Standard Chartered are committed to helping our clients, communities, stakeholders and ourselves achieve the climate goals, as set out in the Paris Agreement, to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

We announced last year that we would develop a methodology to “measure, manage and ultimately reduce” the CO2 emissions from the activities we finance. We believe this is critical to enable us to meet these climate goals and support our clients through the low-carbon transition.

We can do this, but it won’t be easy. As a global bank, we operate in over 60 markets, many of which have fast-growing, increasingly prosperous economies which bring with them growing demand for energy, food, water and goods. We can help our communities meet that growing demand in a sustainable way, ensuring those markets have access to the capital they need to fund reliable, cleaner energy. 

We must also help them to improve their resilience to the potential impacts of climate change, of which they are often on the frontline. At Standard Chartered we believe we have both an obligation – and a unique opportunity – to help countries meet these challenges without compromising our collective climate goals. 

But like action on climate change itself, measuring emissions is complex and requires action from multiple parties. This is a challenge we cannot solve alone. Today, we are making public the work we have done to date to build our methodology. We want to use this to drive the conversation, to accelerate progress and to prevent duplicated efforts. As we see it, success depends on joint efforts among financial institutions to help collectively and continually refine this methodology, as well as widespread company disclosures of accurate and meaningful emissions data. 

With the objective of refining our framework, we’re collaborating with four other banks – BBVA, BNP Paribas, Société Générale and ING – through the Katowice Commitment to develop the methodologies and tools the banking sector needs to assess our own contribution to climate goals. We are making some progress, but with more collaborators, we can do more. 

We recognise that getting robust, verifiable data in many of our markets may take some time, but we are not waiting. We’ve joined forces with 2 Degrees Investing Initiative (2DII), a climate think tank to pilot a software tool which provides emissions assessments, the actions and findings of which can be found in our emissions white paper. Our pilot has shown a lot of promise, and with the help of other banks and stakeholders, we can make more headway and find answers to the challenges we have identified: getting the right data, validating it and scaling it up to cover 100 per cent of our portfolio.

Of course, none of our actions will matter without the efforts of companies across our markets. Disclosures are critical, to show current progress in the transition to a low-carbon future, and help us and other banks understand where capital is needed to complete this transition. There is much we can do in working with clients to assess, and improve, their emissions profiles. 

Disclosures make perfect business sense – the Paris Agreement is expected to open up climate investment opportunities of USD23 trillion in emerging markets between now and 2030, according to the IFC. Much of this investment flow will be guided by and dependent on emissions data. When the private sector recognises its business case, disclosures on climate-related matters can become the new ‘business-as-usual’.

The stakes cannot be overstated. To ensure that the flow of capital reaches the places where it is needed most to achieve climate goals, the world must work together and fast. ‘Business-as-usual’ as we know it is no longer acceptable; let’s all come together to help ensure the sustainability of our planet. 

By Bill Winters, Group CEO / Group CEO, Standard Chartered