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Solar power lights up Azraq refugee camp

Aid representatives meet with a Syrian family that will benefit from the opening of the solar power plant in Azraq refugee camp. (UNHCR)
UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements and IKEA foundation CEO Per Heggenes officially inaugurated Azraq refugee camp’s solar power plant on May 17. (UNHCR)
AMMAN: Azraq in Jordan became the world’s first solar-powered refugee camp when it turned on the power at a new plant in May this year. Now UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is seeking approval to extend the plant and provide power to the entire camp population of over 36,000.
The plan will increase the capacity of the current plant from 2 megawatts (MW) to 5MW, reaching 16,000 more people in the camp.
“The arrival of electricity in Azraq drastically changed the lives of refugees living there. People now feel safer at night, families can charge their phones and children can study and do their homework once the sun has set,” said Olga Sarrado, spokesperson for UNHCR Jordan.
For Syrian families in Azraq, living without electricity has been one of the hardest adjustments to life in the camp.
During the first two and a half years, there was only sporadic access to power, making the most basic activities difficult. Cooking, washing, studying, walking to the communal bathrooms at night and communicating with relatives back home became daily challenges, particularly at the height of hot summers and during bitterly cold winters.
“In Syria we were used to a particular lifestyle, and then we were disconnected from it when we became refugees,” 52-year-old Fatima, a single mother from rural Damascus, told UNHCR.
“For someone who is used to having electricity, you cannot imagine how difficult it is to live without it.”
Preserving food without a fridge was one of the greatest challenges. “When we cooked a meal we had to throw the leftovers away because there was no safe way to store food,” she said.
“Now we can listen to music or have a cold glass of water, and daily life no longer ends when the sun sets.”
The project, funded by the IKEA Foundation’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign at a cost of $9.6 million, will yield energy savings of $1.5 million.
It will also reduce CO2 emissions by 2,370 tons a year, setting a precedent for integrating clean energy sources into the humanitarian sector’s response to displacement crises moving forward.
“It’s a showcase for other places around the world in how refugee communities can strive to be self-sufficient,” said Shukri Halaby, COO of Mustakbal, the Jordanian solar company that built the plant.
A new 12MW solar plant, funded by the German government, is now being built at Zaatari, Jordan’s largest refugee camp, with construction due for completion in November 2017.
The plant will increase the electricity supply to an estimated 12 hours per day. At present it is only available from 7:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.
“Lighting up the camp is not only a symbolic achievement,” said Sarrado. “Above all, it allows all residents of the camps to lead more dignified lives.”

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