AZRAQ REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan – Thousands of Syrian families lighted up their homes, charged their phones and chilled their food by solar power before the end of May, as Jordan’s Azraq camp became the first refugee camp in the world to be powered by renewable energy.
The plant , a project of the UNHCR, was built at a cost of €8.75 million (US$9.6 million), funded entirely by the IKEA Foundation’s “Brighter Lives for Refugees” campaign. It will result in immediate energy savings of US$1.5 million a year – which UNHCR will be able to reinvest in other much-needed assistance – as well as annual CO2 emissions savings of 2,370 tons.
“Electric power supply marks a milestone… it allows all residents of the camps to lead more dignified lives.”
Fatima, a 52-year-old single mother from rural Damascus, has lived in the camp since 2015 with her two adult sons. She described the practical and psychological benefits that electricity has brought to the camp and its residents.
“In Syria we were used to a particular lifestyle, and then we were disconnected from it when we became refugees,” she said. “For someone who is used to having electricity, you cannot imagine how difficult it is to live without it.”
Fatima and her two sons have already invested in a second-hand fridge, washing machine and electric fans, which they share between their three shelters.
Solar plant brightens lives at Azraq refugee camp
“Before this, when we cooked a meal we had to throw the leftovers away because there was no safe way to store food,” Fatima explained. “When we got too hot, we had to pour water on our clothes to keep cool. Now we can listen to music or have a cold glass of water, and daily life no longer ends when the sun sets.”
The construction of the solar plant has also provided welcome income and training to more than 50 refugees in the camp, who were employed under the supervision of Jordanian solar company Mustakbal to help build the plant.
Today, there are nearly 15 million refugees globally, half of which are children. Many have no choice but to live in refugee camps, where an absence or lack of light after sunset can have a devastating effect on safety and security. Without light, simple activities such as visiting the toilet, collecting water, returning to the shelter from elsewhere or completing homework after dark can become difficult and dangerous, particularly for women and girls.