Hilaweyn: How to live in a refugee camp with very limited access to energy

An initial assessment carried out by Alianza Shire‘s partner, ZOA, concluded that 98% of the shelters in the Hilaweyn refugee camp (Dollo Ado, Ethiopia) do not have any type of access to electricity.

Last December, our partner ZOA carried out work to identify energy access resources and systems in the Hilaweyn refugee camp (Dollo Ado, on the border between Ethiopia and Somalia), through a series of interviews with approximately 100 refugees and another 100 members of the host community.

98% of the shelters in the refugee camp do not have any type of access to electricity, and only use flashlights for lighting. This does not mean that the population is not connected; in fact, the mobile phone is the most widely used device and is considered a basic necessity. Virtually 100% of the population uses mobile phones, but access to recharge their batteries is very limited.

On average, the refugees recharge their mobiles four times a week, which results in a monthly cost of approximately 8.5 euros for each household. If we add to this the cost of recharging the flashlights for lighting, this cost rises to 11 euros per month. Although this figure may seem low, in the interviews carried out by ZOA, the population was very dissatisfied with the cost of a service that they consider to be highly inefficient. Around 15,000 people live in Hilaweyn, including the refugee population and local population. Although refugee camps are often seen as temporary settlements, most are now full-fledged cities. Therefore, in the case of Hilaweyn, the average time spent in the camp is 8.8 years.

Somali refugee children play football at the UNHCR reception center in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia (Photo: UNHCR)


Electricity, mobile recharging, radio and television are, in this order, the electric services that are most popular among the population, which gives us an idea of the importance of communications above cooling systems or fans.

With the information extracted from the interviews carried out by ZOA, Alianza Shire will determine which energy access and lighting systems are the most appropriate, along with the long-term sustainability model for these systems. In this regard, the fact that each dwelling in the camps accommodates an average of 6.5 people makes it possible to establish the type of home solar systems that are necessary to cover basic needs.

Alianza Shire will apply an energy access model that is sustainable over time. To this end, it will encourage groups or communities that produce and consume energy at the same time, thus promoting small businesses that contribute to sustainability and self-sufficiency. 40 percent of the people interviewed are still not familiar with solar energy systems, so Alianza Shire will introduce training and awareness processes to guarantee the success of these systems in the long term.