Conflict sensitivity and renewable energy: a case study from Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp

Refugee camps are generally set up as a temporary solution to forced displacement of people. Humanitarian aid in such camps focuses on addressing immediate, basic needs such as food, shelter and protection. Though energy is a vital component of almost all human activities, development of long-term solutions in refugee camps is regarded as an investment beyond the remit of humanitarian resources (Whitehouse 2019: 3; Grafham et al. 2016:45; Rosenberg-Jansen et al. 2019:990).

In recent years, however, humanitarian agencies have taken more developmental approaches that include efforts to adopt and use renewable energy, such as solar energy, in refugee camps. In part this is because it has been argued that renewable energy is both less expensive and more reliable than diesel and firewood (Patel et al. 2019a). Clean, sustainable sources of energy have the potential to enhance energy security and to offer “a potential method of improving humanitarian outcomes and enabling self-reliance” (Cross et al. 2019: 3).

At the same time, these projects can also change economic activities and community relationships. Such impacts include the potential to provoke conflict among residents who live in refugee camps, and to cause or exacerbate tensions with host communities, with whom relationships are often already fraught – primarily because energy is generally insufficient to meet demand in locations where refugee camps are located. Consequently, conflict sensitivity of energy projects is an issue requiring further attention so that negative impacts on existing and new conflict can be avoided and positive impacts in addressing them can also be sought.

The purpose of this report is to present a preliminary investigation on the take-up of renewable energy projects and the degree to which such projects consider the potential for conflict to arise as a result of their work. The report examines these issues at Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, which has become one of the world’s largest camps. This report analyses key renewable projects undertaken at the camp between 1992 (the year it was established) and 2020 to better understand the opportunities and challenges of conflict-sensitive, low-carbon development.

The findings show that the potential for such projects to contribute to conflict is rarely discussed at any stage, and that data are lacking to discern whether green energy projects have indeed led to increased friction or tension either within the camp or between residents of the camp and the host community.

The authors argue that renewable energy projects can and should take steps to anticipate, prevent, reduce and address discord that can arise from such projects. The authors argue that local community engagement and the inclusion of a wide variety of local stakeholders have the potential to increase awareness of conflict as a potential ramification, and to reduce the likelihood that new conflicts erupts or that existing conflicts are exacerbated.

This is a preliminary analysis, and the list of projects is not comprehensive; as such, the report aims to encourage further identification, data sharing and feedback on related energy issues and their efforts to address conflict.



Excerpt of: Conflict sensitivity and renewable energy: a case study from Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2022)


Download the full document.