Last February, Alianza Shire and UNHCR Ethiopia inaugurated an isolated power energy system for two primary schools in the Kobe refugee camp in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. The project will directly benefit 800 refugee students and indirectly benefit 4,000 local residents.

Inauguration ceremony

The goal of this project was to improve the infrastructure of the facilities by providing an alternative energy source for the electrification and ventilation of the schools. With these improvements, not only has the learning and teaching environment been enhanced, it is also expected to be a relevant factor in increasing the motivation of students and teachers to attend classes.

More specifically, solar panels with a capacity of 20 kWp and 9.6 kWh of battery storage were installed. The energy system has the capacity of 10 kWp per school, and includes internal electrical installations and light points, sockets, switches and overhead fans for classrooms and administrative offices.

Four electric kitchens (two per school) have also been installed in the two schools to facilitate the school feeding programmes. This will reduce the amount of firewood that is usually used for this activity, helping to reduce environmental deforestation.

In addition, two 55-inch smart TVs have been installed (one per school) which are helping teachers and instructors to conduct their classes.


The project has been funded by the European Union, through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), in the framework of the Alianza Shire project. It has been implemented by UNHCR, working in partnership with Save the Environment Ethiopia (SEE) and the state-owned Refugee and Returnee Services (RRS).

Within the framework of the 3rd Call for Undergraduate Thesis (TFG) and Master’s Thesis (TFM) awards in international cooperation for sustainable human development, promoted by the Polytechnic University of Madrid in 2022, the TFM “Energy and participation in refugee and displaced communities: The case of Alianza Shire” was awarded a prize.

The author of the work, Carmen Pascual Reyero, after completing her Master’s in Strategies and Technologies for Development and doing an internship with Alianza Shire, is now a member of the itdUPM team, dedicating her efforts mainly to Alianza Shire’s operations.

She received the award from the dean, Guillermo Cisneros, at a ceremony held in the auditorium of the School of Agricultural, Food and Biosystems Engineering (ETSIAAB) of the Polytechnic University of Madrid on 9 March.

The award-winning work is based on two observations. On the one hand, in a humanitarian response, access to energy for refugees and displaced populations is very important because it is a fundamental need and because it is linked to multiple dimensions. On the other hand, addressing the response without generating dependency and offering a good level of access is a challenge for the humanitarian energy sector.

The case of Alianza Shire is therefore presented as an example of the trend towards service delivery models to develop sustainable energy solutions, with non-traditional actors such as the private sector.

The direct inclusion of the refugee and displaced population is key to this challenge, and therefore participatory methods and inclusive planning tools are used to ensure the highest and best possible participation. Based on an analysis of the participation achieved in Alianza Shire, and after identifying that the greatest barriers are human, social, cultural and religious (rather than technological), proposals are developed to improve the participation of the refugee population as well as host communities.

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What is Alianza Shire?

Alianza Shire is a platform in which five entities from the public, private and academic sectors collaborate to develop energy supply solutions that improve the services and quality of life of refugee populations.

The members of the Alliance are the companies Iberdrola and Signify, the business foundation, the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (itdUPM) and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID). In addition, we have the collaboration and active participation of UNHCR.

Alianza Shire is the first multi-actor alliance of humanitarian action in Spain.

Alianza Shire currently works in the refugee camps in the Dollo Ado region (Somali region in southeastern Ethiopia) and their respective host communities, reaching more than 40,000 people.

How does an alliance of this kind emerge?

The impulse comes from the Office of Humanitarian Action of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID), although many of the people and entities that participated in this alliance had already worked together on previous projects.

The Alliance was established in December 2013 with the aim of improving access and quality of energy services for the population at the refugee camps.

The group of organizations and people that make up Alianza Shire come from different areas, but we all work towards the mission of collaborating with the international humanitarian community, providing more adapted, efficient and sustainable solutions in access to energy.

Why is an alliance of all these organizations necessary?

The aim of the alliance is to find innovative and sustainable solutions for access to energy in contexts of humanitarian crises, specifically for refugee population. In addition, all this is framed in number 7 of the Sustainable Development Goals promoted by the UN: “Guarantee access to affordable, safe, sustainable and modern energy for all”, and in number 17: “Partnerships to achieve the objectives”.

Thus, the fact that the members of the alliance come from different areas – private companies, public administrations, NGOs, universities – provides a great value that allows us to have interdisciplinary teams, which leads to a combination of knowledge that favours the search for innovative solutions.

We are talking about the first alliance of this kind, in Humanitarian Action, in Spain.

How do the companies contribute? And what do they get in return?

The companies are involved in addressing problems of access to basic services in very complex environments, including those in which humanitarian interventions are carried out, which is usually beyond their scope of action. At the same time, they have shown a continued commitment to contributing to a model of sustainable economic growth.

For the project implemented until 2018 in the Shire region and the one we are currently carrying out in Dollo Ado, we are working with the NGO ZOA, which has extensive experience in humanitarian action, the Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS), and of course, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which remains our implementing partner.

How do you work on the field? Are there permanent teams there?

As a member of Alianza Shire, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation has a Technical Cooperation Office (OTC) in Addis Ababa.

On the other hand, the Alliance works with a series of partners that have infrastructure and personnel in the refugee camps.

For the project we are developing between 2018 and 2021 in four refugee camps, we have the NGO ZOA as a partner with long experience in humanitarian action, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), The Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS), the Ethiopian Electricity Utility (EEU) and the NGO Don Bosco / Jugen Eine Welt. And of course, the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) is still our collaborating entity.

The teams of Alianza Shire in Spain carry out periodic trips to identify the main needs in the field, design innovative solutions, exchange information with other organizations and actors, and launch the solutions once designed.

The projects of the alliance always count with the participation of the population, both in the refugee camps and in the host communities, and this helps us to better understand their needs.

Among refugees it is common to find technical profiles, and even graduates from higher education, which can add great value to the projects. In many cases, they are trained to set up technical teams that maintain the infrastructure that is developed in the field.

Finally, we work with the Woredas, which are the equivalent of the town halls where the refugee camps are located.

 Are the Alianza Shire teams on the field all volunteers?

Sometimes they are volunteers who, in coordination with their company or entity, dedicate a part of their time to these projects, but in most cases, and mainly in the case of the university and public administration, it is staff who is dedicated to the alliance.

What they all have in common is that they are professionals of recognized trajectory in their fields.

What is Alianza Shire’s position on the refugee population at a general level?

Alianza Shire has adopted the New York Declaration of September 2016, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), as its working framework and guide, which has served as the Ethiopian Government’s roadmap since November 2017, as well as the Global Compact on Refugees, adopted in December 2018 by the UN General Assembly.

This global compact aims to transform the way in which refugee situations are approached, employing a more balanced response and with greater international support for countries hosting a larger number of refugees, which is the case of Ethiopia.

In turn, the Global Compact on Refugees calls for greater inclusion and self-reliance of refugees upon arrival in the country, and we must not forget that Ethiopia hosts more than 900,000 refugees; the second largest refugee population in Africa hosted by a single country.

At Alianza Shire, we believe that Ethiopia has been at the forefront of legislation on refugee rights with the Refugee Proclamation, which aims to facilitate the integration of refugees and their inclusion in everyday life, providing freedom of movement, work permits and access to education, among others. However, the specific steps to be taken following the Proclamation are still under way.

In addition, this initiative aims to contribute to the Clean Energy Challenge launched by UNHCR in 2019, whose objective is to provide clean and sustainable energy to displaced populations.

We will collaborate with local authorities to assess energy needs in order to design an appropriate solution from a technological and organisational point of view.

About the 2018-2021 project

What is the project you are developing in the four refugee camps about?

The overall objective of the Project is to improve the living conditions in refugee camps and their host communities, strengthening local capacities, creating income generation opportunities and improving access to basic services through the cross-cutting impacts of energy.

In particular, the general objective is to be achieved by means of two specific objectives:

  1. To improve the electric service through the strengthening of capacities in the Ethiopian Electrical Utility (EEU), the refugee population and the host communities, as well as the improvement and extension of the electric network and the installation of public lighting.
  2. To create opportunities to generate income and improve the quality of life of the refugee population and host communities through training, creation of businesses based on photovoltaic solar technology and the distribution of Home Photovoltaic Systems (SFD), promoting employment and economic development.

First, we will collaborate with the Ethiopian National Ethiopian Electrical Utility (EEU) to improve the supply of electricity in the fields and in the host communities, the correction of anomalies, the extension of the electrical network and the installation of public lighting.

In addition, we will provide training for capacity development among the refugee population and host communities for the maintenance of the facilities.

On the other hand, we will promote the creation of companies by the refugee population and host communities, based on photovoltaic technology and the distribution of home photovoltaic systems. The objective is to create opportunities for income generation and livelihoods to improve the quality of life.

Alianza Shire also includes a work line to systematize and disseminate the main experiences and learnings acquired during the project, to make them available for the international humanitarian community.

What technologies are you developing to give access to energy?

The first thing we do is a diagnosis in the field with the people involved (refugees and host communities, humanitarian organizations, government of the host country, etc.) in order to determine the best possible solution.

In the case of the project that we developed in the refugee camps of Shire (Ethiopia), we studied solutions to improve the management of the electrical network, and external lighting through luminaires, as well as Photovoltaic Systems Domiciliary. The SFDs are photovoltaic kits that include a photovoltaic solar panel, a battery, several points of light and a device for mobile charging.

What will happen once the project is finished?

The alliance has the vocation of seeking for technological solutions for access to energy with the following characteristics:

  • Sustainable on the long term
  • Can be adapted to other contexts of humanitarian crisis
  • Allow active participation from the project’s users

In this way, we try to ensure that, once the project is completed, the refugee population and the host communities have the tools and experience to maintain and improve it.

Regarding the electricity network, some of the people who have been trained in installation, operation and maintenance of the network will be linked with the national electricity company, with the aim of ensuring that there will be technicians dedicated to the maintenance in the fields. In addition, a remote monitoring system will be implemented by which the experts of Spanish companies will be able to advise the technicians of the EEU in case it is necessary to carry out any operation or repair.

On the other hand, the business model that has been designed for the solar component is thought so that the project’s users must pay a fee for using the SFD. In this way, it is guaranteed that the necessary income is obtained both for the purchase of spare parts and for the salary of the people in charge of managing the solar business. Thus, the business’s long-term sustainability is guaranteed.

What are the most urgent needs regarding energy access in these camps?

Community Services

Currently, the main energy provision for community services (school, hospital, etc.) is done through the Ethiopian national electricity network, but with many power cuts, due to the quality of the materials in the network, both in the fields like in the rest of the country.

There is a lack of energy for basic services such as health, education, outdoor lighting, community feeding centres and community kitchens. Not having access to energy frustrates the greater likelihood of building more productive and fruitful lives.

In addition, there is a lack of fuel for cooking. Obtaining wood is prohibited, since it is a scarce resource and competition for it is a source of conflict with the local community. For now, the solution proposed by UNHCR has been the installation of communal kitchens connected to the electricity grid, which serve so that part of the population of the camps can cook with electricity.

Productive uses

On the other hand, in a dynamic environment such as the fields, the provision of electric services is essential to develop productive activities. In this sense, businesses that obtain energy through private diesel generators have a price much higher than electricity from the electricity grid. For instance, a restaurant that has electricity for 8 hours a day for several lights, a speaker and a refrigerator, must pay about 30 euros per month (while if it was connected to the network, it would not pay more than 5).


Finally, the in-home energy needs are also several. Apart from cooking, as mentioned before, energy for lighting is a key factor. Currently, the lighting inside the shelters is done through lanterns or candles; this represents a great cost for families. In addition, mobile loading (completely necessary for communication with their families abroad) is carried out in stores and involves a large cost.

With regard to the sustainable energy supply in community services and public lighting, the design of a management model that takes into account social, institutional and economic factors has been considered, in addition to the technological design of the solution. This objective will be addressed through the creation of a model that integrates a wide range of energy services, taking into account the above-mentioned factors.

What is the project’s current status? What has been done so far?

The first step, once the alliance was constituted, was to identify the energy needs, the problems to give access to it, and the study of possible solutions. On that basis, a map of problems and solutions was elaborated.

In the pilot project carried out in the field of Adi-Harush we have extended the public lighting along 5 kilometres, we have given a workshop to 19 people in installation, management and maintenance of the electrical network and public lighting, and we have connected various common services (such as markets, schools, a health centre, community kitchens, etc.) to the electricity network

In 2018, after evaluating the results of the pilot project, Alianza Shire members decided to extend the initiative to include a second phase in other Shire refugee camps and their host communities. A proposal to extend the project was designed and presented to the European Union, which awarded it a grant of € 3,050,000 to co-finance the project, through Delegated Cooperation under the EUTF Trust Fund for Africa.

However, following the outbreak of conflict in late 2020 in the Tigray region, Alianza Shire has decided to transfer the project to the refugee camps and host communities of Dollo Ado, on the border with Somalia.

Do you count with the support of the Ethiopian Government to work on the fields?

Yes, and that support is essential. In fact, one of the partners of the Alliance is the Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS). On the other hand, the refugee camps are managed by UNHCR in close collaboration with the Ethiopian Government. Any action we develop is in coordination with them.

By the end of 2018, the Ethiopian Government has established a new proclamation of refugees, which guarantees more rights to the recognized refugee and asylum seeker population. This law is one of the most progressive in Africa, and among the new rights granted includes the possibility of working, the registration of vital events, etc.

At the same time, action has begun in Ethiopia towards the Comprehensive Framework for Response to Refugees (CRRF) with the aim of carrying out the implementation of the 9 promises made by the Ethiopian Government. With this, the Government established the National Coordination Office (NCO) in Ethiopia and created an Ethiopian Refugee Response Plan (RRP).

Why did you decide to stop working in the refugee camps in the Shire region?

The selection of refugee camps in which Alianza Shire operates is led by the Office of Humanitarian Action of AECID, together with UNHCR as a participating entity. To this end, different criteria has been taken into account, such as the stability of the camps, safety conditions, location, context, the evolution of the crisis at the time of selection, etc.

In early November 2020, political tension between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Regional Government led to an armed conflict that affected access to basic services, such as electricity, fuel, communications and transport, in addition to loss of life.

After continuously monitoring the situation in Tigray, together with ZOA, a partner organisation for the implementation of the project with a stable presence in the Shire region, and UNHCR, the partnership has decided to stop working in the area.

Following the outbreak of the conflict, UNHCR, together with other international agencies and both international and local organisations, have developed an emergency response throughout the Tigray region, which includes the Shire camps.

Although Alianza Shire is not currently working in the Shire region, it has decided to maintain its original name in recognition of the project carried out in the Shire refugee camps between 2014 and 2017.

Why did you decide to operate in this area?

The conflict that broke out in Tigray in November 2020 forced us to partially suspend the project, which, given the continuing crisis in the region, led to the decision to stop working in the area and find another site to transfer the operation in order to avoid its definitive suspension.

The partnership, in agreement with other actors involved in the project, such as the European Union and UNHCR, sought a stable area in terms of security, where the local organisation ZOA, the main implementing partner of the project on-site, could easily transfer the know-how already acquired to the project. Both requirements were met in the Dollo Ado camps and their host communities in the Somali region, where there have been no significant conflicts in recent years and where ZOA has experience working with other projects.

In addition, this area is an ideal place to implement electricity access initiatives since, on the one hand, they have previous experience in energy projects, and on the other hand, the area currently has no electricity service connected to the national grid and is not likely to, either in the short or medium term. The nearest grid connection point is 200 km away, so it is not included in the existing conventional electrification plans.

What is going on in Somalia that is causing so many refugees to flee from this country?

Somalia is embroiled in one of the longest refugee crises in the world. According to UNHCR, one third of its population lives in a situation of forced displacement, both internally and to other countries in the region.

This Somali population are direct or indirect victims of violence, as a result of power struggles between extremist groups or inter-clan conflict. Many women have become the sole heads of household and have had to travel to avoid being banned from working by these armed groups. In addition, the El Niño phenomenon and climate change are particularly affecting Somalia, increasing desertification and prolonging droughts.

What is the situation of Somali refugees in the Dollo Ado camps?

Around 170,000 people are registered in the Dollo Ado refugee camps, located in southeastern Ethiopia and close to the border with Somalia and Kenya (according to UNHCR data for May 2021).

According to UNHCR data from 2020, the distribution of the population in the camps by gender is similar, with a slightly higher female presence (52%). 21% of refugees living in the camps earn income from their economic activity, while in host communities this percentage is 29%. The average income of the refugee population in the camps is $28 per month, while in host communities it is $105 per month.

If the refugee camps have a temporary vocation, why do you create infrastructure?

We try to ensure that refugees in these camps have a minimum quality of life, even for a limited time.

Currently, unfortunately, the life of a refugee camp is around 25-30 years, before refugees can return to their countries of origin.

Our goal is that, during this period, the refugee population can have a decent life and enjoy the most basic human rights. In our case, this means improving access to energy, which allows a correct provision of basic services.

In addition, the new refugee framework seeks to reduce the dependence of the refugee population on external aid and to equip it with the capacities to develop their own means of livelihood, for which access to energy is essential.

What is important to emphasize about this type of projects?

It is very important to highlight the participatory dynamics with the refugee population, so that they can understand and respond to their needs and preferences, to improve the sustainability and impact of energy interventions (and promote a sense of ownership of the facilities by the refugee population). It must be them who learn how to maintain these infrastructures and make use of them for a long time.

What does it mean for a refugee camp not to have access to energy?

There are many implications, and not always the most obvious, such as having light at night to read or being able to charge a mobile phone. For instance, the mobile load is made in stores, and has a much higher cost than it would have if it were charged with the electric network (between 25 and 50 times higher).

Without access to energy, the population needs to find fuel for cooking, which causes deforestation in the area and confrontation for resources with the local population. In ​​the fields of Shire, the average distance to the areas with the closest firewood is about 5 km, which is more than two hours for the collection of firewood.

Besides, energy is essential to provide health services and to treat problems derived from the inhalation of gases from fuels. It is estimated that, in the world, some 20,000 displaced people die prematurely per year by inhaling polluting fumes during cooking.

Energy poverty is a persistent problem for the refugee population. Around 80% of refugees living in camps have minimal access to energy for cooking, heating, etc. And about 90% do not have access to electricity.

At a security level, the lack of energy restricts women’s freedom, since they are exposed to possible sexual aggressions or rapes when they move in poorly lit spaces, or when they travel outside the limits of the fields to collect firewood. Women and girls are more secure if they can access a cleaner source of energy for lighting and cooking.

What is being done so that the refugee population can return to Eritrea, to their country?

As an alliance, we work with populations that have been forced to move for various reasons, seeking for minimum living conditions to cover their basic needs wherever they are.

Of course, we always work in agreement with international organizations, UN agencies and humanitarian actors with presence in the fields, respecting the humanitarian principles: Humanity, Neutrality, Impartiality and Independence. This is how we can be more effective in achieving results for this population.

What is the relationship between the refugee population and the host communities?

Relations between the refugee population and the host communities have traditionally been addressed in terms of confrontation and competition for natural resources. In Alianza Shire we work with another approach, which is aligned with the recent changes in this area at the international level. The refugee population has a great relevance in the economic dynamics, and a great potential to make a significant socioeconomic contribution to the host communities.

Thus, we are working with both populations to use their resources in the best possible way, in order to improve their access to basic services and their quality of life.

The projects of Alianza Shire in refugee camps always incorporate host communities since the beginning.

The inclusion of refugees makes it possible to contribute to the local economy and boost the development of the host communities. If refugees are given opportunities to sustain themselves / support themselves and their families, they can make a positive contribution to the communities that host them, achieving mutual empowerment, both socially and economically, as promoted by the CRRF.

Recognizing the importance of good relations between communities and in the hope of having durable solutions, programs and projects will foster the fight against all forms of discrimination and promote peaceful coexistence between refugee populations and host communities, in line with the national policies. (Global Refugee Pact, December 2018).