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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.

Currently, the Alliance works in four refugee camps in the Shire area (Northern 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 are the enterprises contributing, and what do they get in exchange?

The companies that are part of this alliance have vast experience and knowledge in the field of energy that, combined with the university and Spanish Cooperation, can contribute to creating viable and sustainable solutions.

What they get in exchange is a better knowledge of the humanitarian action scope and on how to solve problems regarding access to basic services in very complex environments. At the same time, they are making progress in their commitment to contribute to a model of sustainable economic growth.

Therefore, this is an alliance in which all members learn and benefit from this shared work experience.

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 Ethiopian Agency for Refugee Affairs (ARRA), 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 adopts the New York Declaration of September 2016 and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) as a theoretical framework. As a result of this summit, in November 2017, Ethiopia established a Road Map to implement the CRRF.

From the Alliance, we believe that Ethiopia has been at the forefront of the legislation on refugee population’s rights with this new Refugee Proclamation, which seeks to facilitate the integration of refugees and their inclusion in daily life, providing freedom of movement, work permits and access to education, etc. In any case, the concrete measures that will be adopted after the Proclamation are still being developed.


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.

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

Between 2018 and 2022, we will extend the project to three new refugee camps. In addition to the installation of the electrical network and public lighting, we will incorporate home photovoltaic systems, both in these refugee camps and in the host communities.

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 Ethiopian Agency for Refugee Affairs ARRA. 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 have you decided to intervene in this are in the first place?

The selection of Shire refugee camps was led by the Humanitarian Action Office of the AECID and UNHCR as a collaborating entity. For this, different criteria were considered, such as the stability of the fields, security conditions, location, context, evolution of the crises at the time of selection, etc.

The fields of Shire have a major problem of energy access, but of course it is not the only case. The alliance needs minimum security conditions to develop this project, which has a clear vocation to be replicable in other refugee camps or in other humanitarian crises.

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.


About the refugee camps


What is the problem in Eritrea for there to be so many refugees from this country?

Eritrea is one of the most hermetic countries globally, thus reliable information might be difficult to obtain.

Eritrean population, along with the Syrian and Afghan, represent the widest groups of refugees arriving in Europe in the last months.

Most of the refugee population affirms that they escape from a military service, which is mandatory and of unlimited duration in Eritrea for both sexes.

Amnesty International estimates some 10,000 political prisoners in Eritrea, and it is believed that up to 10% of the population, just over 6 million, has tried to flee the country.

In Eritrea there is no rule of law or Constitution or freedom of movement, association or religion. Arbitrary arrests are common.

In July 2018, peace was signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea, after almost 20 years of a state of constant war. In addition, in September 2018 the border between both countries was opened


What is the current situation of Eritrean refugee population in the camps of Shire?

Up to date, around 72.000 people are registered in refugee camps in Shire, northern Ethiopia in the border with Eritrea (UNHCR, December 2018), but this data is in continuous change.

The increase is constant and the profile of the newly arrived population changes periodically. So far, the arriving population had been young men who were fleeing away from mandatory and indefinite military service. Nowadays, the number of arriving women and children has increased, seeking for family reunification.

Due to the lack of opportunities in the camps, many of them wander towards Europe, exposing themselves to dangers like the brutality of human traffickers, the intense heat of the desert, and the conflict in Libya during their transit through said country.

On the other hand, Ethiopia is continuously exposed to severe droughts that affect the Horn of Africa and might also affect the camps significantly.


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).