The 2018 Winter Olympic Games will shine a spotlight beyond top athletes to illuminate the lives of refugees.

With some 65.6 million people forcibly displaced from their homes, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are joining forces through the ‘Become the Light’ initiative to provide lights for refugees. According to UNHCR, 9 out of 10 refugees in camps have no access to light. For these 4 million men, women, and children, many community building activities – such as sport, work, play, and reading – end when the sun goes down. That’s why light, when powered by sustainable sources like solar energy, can be transformational.

Fortunately, barriers to sustainable, healthier, more cost-effective energy solutions are breaking down. UN agencies like UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are coordinating with host countries, non-profit organizations, and the private sector to unlock the benefits of sustainable energy in humanitarian settings. For example, the UN, along with partners including the UN Foundation and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, are part of the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy Humanitarian Working Group, which aims to respond to the fuel and energy needs of crisis-affected populations.

Here are 5 reasons to care about sustainable energy access in refugee camps and how you can support:

  1. Energy access is a basic need and fundamental to the well-being and dignity of all people. Access to safe and sustainable energy is essential for basic human protection and dignity. Energy enables students to study, entrepreneurs to innovate, and families to stay active after the sun goes down. Sustainable Development Goal 7 aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030” – and that includes refugees.
  1. According to estimates from the Moving Energy Initiative, 20,000 displaced people die prematurely from unsafe fuels. By providing access to modern energy services, as well as cleaner, more efficient cooking services, we can make cooking safer.
  1. Light can improve the well-being of girls and women. It can be dangerous for refugees to travel across camps at night, especially for women and girls at risk of physical and sexual violence. Light helps improve their safety, while also giving girls and women more time to pursue economic and educational opportunities.
  1. Sustainable energy makes good business sense. UNHCR spends an estimated $100 million a year on diesel fuel alone. With the costs of solar technology falling and innovative partnerships growing, sustainable energy in refugee camps can deliver major savings. Plus, the installation and maintenance of these systems can create meaningful job opportunities for refugees.
  1. We have solutions that work: The world’s first refugee camp now runs on renewable energy. Azraq, the world’s first refugee camp located in northern Jordan, also became the first camp to install a solar farm in 2017. Thanks to a partnership between UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation, 20,000 Syrian refugees in Azraq now have access to safe and sustainable electricity free of cost. The solar farm will bring immediate savings of $1.5 million per year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2,370 tons per year. Plus, another camp in Jordan, Za’atari, broke records with  a 12.9 megawatt peak solar energy plant that went live this past November – the largest solar plant ever built in a refugee camp. The examples set by Azraq and Za’atari serve as a model for sustainable energy systems in refugee camps across the globe.

How can you help power refugee camps?

IOC and UNCHR’s ‘Become the Light’ campaign invites you to help power Mahama refugee camp in northern Rwanda by getting active.

  1. Sign up.Register your fitness tracking device through the Olympic Channel:
  1. Start Moving. All recorded steps will add to a global tally that converts to lighted power for more than 55,000 refugees in Mahama camp.

Don’t have a fitness device?

Support UN agencies and humanitarian partners providing energy access and other forms of critical assistance to millions of refugees in need. Now has never been a more urgent time to donate to UNHCR as the global community faces the highest levels of displacement on record.