By: Iben Bjørgulf Antonsen
When families and individuals flee their homes with little more than the clothes they wear, they face an urgent need for specific core relief non-food items.
“The most important core relief items distributed by the UNHCR until 2014 were plastic sheets for shelter, blankets to keep warm, a kitchen set for cooking, and soap for the body as well as clothes,” says Mats Hultgren, Chief of Supply Operations Support Section at UNHCR from 2011 to 2016.
He has been responsible for the logistics to support and deliver core relief items to emergency operations.
In 2014 another item was added to the list of basic needs: the BRIGHT SunBell solar lamp.
”Before, there was no light, and people lived in darkness. It was essential for us to add elements of security, especially for the female population in the refugee camps. The lamp provided protection by giving light when going to the toilet at night or walking home after sunset, essentially reducing the risk of assaults and rape,” Mats Hultgren explains. He adds how the UNHCR moreover wanted to enable the youth to study when it gets dark.
Education is essential for the future of refugees.
Participating in basic and higher education is essential for the future of the refugees. UNHCR states in the report Refugee Education in Crisis from 2016 that education of refugees “is crucial to the peaceful and sustainable development of the places that have welcomed them, and to the future prosperity of their own countries.” According to Innovative Technology for Better Refugee Protection, the refugee agency states, “In camps without electricity or light, girls and boys cannot study at night, which is often the only time they get a chance to do homework.” Read more about the educational effect of the solar lamp here.
Multi-functionality and safer lighting with renewable energy
The multi-functionality of the SunBell solar lamp was also an essential argument for choosing the BRIGHT lamp, says Mats Hultgren. It works as a hanging lamp, study light, portable light, torch, and hands-free neck lamp. The power of the light can be set in three different levels, operating at least 80 hours on low mode with a five to seven years battery lifespan. In addition, SunBell can charge low-voltage devices. All of it provided through a renewable and environmental-friendly source of energy.
According to the GOGLA impact metrics for BRIGHT, the SunBell solar lamp has replaced more than three million status quo lighting units such as kerosene lanterns, candles, and battery torches. This drastically reduces the risk of respiratory infections and carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the toxic kerosene.
Using the SunBell has essentially reduced greenhouse gas emissions with more than 4 million tons in total, according to the GOGLA impact metrics for BRIGHT. The numerous health benefits of the solar lamp are described in much more detail here.
Almost 800 million without access to electricity
An estimated 775 +/- million people did not have access to electricity in 2022, according to the World Energy Outlook report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). About 84 % of people without access to electricity reside in rural areas, and more than 95 % of those living without electricity are in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. Many more suffer long power cuts from unstable and poor-quality energy supplies.
Almost every aspect of everyday life revolves around a stable and undisturbed flow of electricity accompanied by light sources to prolong hours of productivity. All activities come to a natural stop without light.
It gets impossible to read, do homework, do sports, cook, patch clothes, and maintain small businesses or social life.
When the sun sets, it is pitch-black. “The dark stops everything. With light, you can keep going and do things. Light is a universal need,” describes the co-founder of BRIGHT and member of the board, Marius Andresen.
According to UNHCR statistics, there were more than 103 million displaced people worldwide as of mid-2022, where 32 million were refugees, and an estimated 41% were under 18.
Mobile phones and internet access is critical to refugees’ safety.
A representative from Innovation Norway, a network of humanitarian organizations and private companies that BRIGHT collaborates with, visited the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya after the first Sunbells had been distributed. Here, two refugees explained how they used the lamp.
The 23-year-old boy from Somalia, living in Dadaab for the last 13 years, explains how the solar lamp “has positively affected me. We did not have light at home before. I read with it, and as a student, you need to read much, and even I have a telephone, and I can charge with it.”
A 17-year-old girl from Ethiopia elucidates how the lamp “helps me do my homework at night, and my mom didn’t have a charger, so it’s charging my mum’s phone.”
A study called Connecting Refugees by UNHCR and Accenture in 2016 concluded that mobile phones and internet access are as critical to refugees’ safety and security as food, shelter, and water. It describes how the mobile phone “has the potential to create a powerful multiplier effect, boosting the well-being of refugees and of the communities that host them” (p. 5).
Mats Hultgren, Chief of Supply Operations Support Section at UNHCR from 2011 to 2016, supports this conclusion and adds: