Woman cooking outside in Nepal after the earthquake devastated thousands of homes (c) IRIN Photo/Juliette Rousselot
© IRIN Photo/Juliette Rousselot

Coordinating Energy Access in Emergencies: The Nepal Earthquake

February 23, 2016


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Coordination is crucial in emergencies. In acknowledgement of this fact, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) implemented the cluster system, in which specific agencies are responsible for coordinating all humanitarian response efforts in a particular sector, such as food security, protection, and health. The cluster system is designed to prevent the world’s numerous aid agencies from duplicating efforts, wasting key resources, or providing uneven assistance across communities. However, while access to fuel and energy for heating, lighting, cooking, and powering is a critical need among crisis-affected populations – one that impacts protection, health, and food security – energy access has not yet been formalized as a part of the UN cluster system.

When a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal in 2015, the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) Humanitarian Working Group sought to fill a central coordination gap in energy response activities during and after the crisis. In its role as Co-Chair of the Working Group, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (Alliance) coordinated efforts among humanitarian response agencies, community-based organizations, international NGOs, private companies, and the Government of Nepal to assess energy needs and respond accordingly with distributions of solar lamps, fuel efficient cookstoves, off-grid power systems, mobile charging units, and other critical ener­gy supplies to earthquake survivors. In addition to hosting weekly conference calls among responders, the SAFE Working Group created an emergency webpage for the Nepal earthquake featuring an interactive project map, running updates on partner activities, and various resources that partners could use to stay informed and share best practices.

This immense coordination effort paid off.  A recent case study by the SAFE Working Group estimates that over  86,147 energy products were delivered by participating organizations, including solar lights, lights + chargers, cookstoves, power systems, and solar home systems. Based on distributions planned in late 2015, an additional 72,000 products are expected to be delivered in 2016.

The success of this effort, however, goes well beyond the products delivered. Cooperating through the SAFE Working Group strengthened relationships between donors, implementing agencies, and private sector actors, facilitating future collaboration. Members of the SAFE Working Group also encouraged humanitarian agencies to set and comply with minimum performance criteria for energy products such as cookstoves and solar lanterns – raising awareness about existing quality assurance guidelines for future distributions and ensuring that quality products were delivered to survivors. Most importantly, the Government of Nepal’s Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) took over facilitating the response efforts from the SAFE Working Group in mid-2015, bringing a sense of ownership and sustainability to future energy access projects in Nepal.

Thousands of families instantly lost access to household energy for cooking, lighting, heating, and powering during the Nepal earthquake. Thanks to the efforts of all of the organizations who participated in the energy response effort coordinated by the SAFE Working Group, thousands of survivors received lighting to navigate, study, and work at night; cookstoves to prepare nutritious meals for their families; and power to charge their mobile phones and reach out to loved ones.

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On behalf of the SAFE Working Group, the Alliance thanks all the organizations who participated in the 2015 energy response effort in Nepal. We are particularly grateful to Mercy Corps, the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), Ecoprise, the Nepal Trust, Envirofit, Waka Waka, Gham Power, the Centre for Rural Technology Nepal (CTR/N), the Himilayan Stoves Project, Empower Generation, Sunfarmer, Unite to Light, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and d.light – all of whom contributed content for the case study.