Energy is essential in virtually every aspect of human life. It is useful for cooking, lighting and most of the activities that facilitate the existence of human beings. It plays a central role in converting raw materials to safe food for human consumption. In order for human beings to continue using energy resources for their welfare, it is important to ensure that the resources are conserved (Rex 2006 p 46). On the other hand, the use of energy has a significant impact on the environment, which depends on the source as well as the manner in which the energy is used. The impacts on the environment usually have negative consequences on human life. Global warming has occurred mainly as a result of humans trying to satisfy their energy requirements.
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Overusing the available sources of energy has led to deterioration of natural systems. For example, the global forest cover has reduced significantly due to use of fuel wood which is non renewable. People, especially in the low income groups are the major contributors to the destruction of forests for fuel wood and charcoal. Refugees are part of the groups that largely depend on fuel wood in Eastern Ethiopia. A reduction in forest cover negatively affects the capacity of forests in carbon sequestration (DeCicco and John 1990 p 71). This literature review will assist in identifying the underlying factors that are significant in addressing the vulnerability of women in humanitarian settings, especially the social and health effects of cooking methods used in Eastern Ethiopia refugee camps.
Environmental Impacts and other Risks
A reduction in the use of fuel wood helps in reducing the pressure on the available forests. This is important in enhancing their capacity to act as a Carbon sink as well as extending the period of time they can be available for use by humans. Studies indicate that in many communities especially in the developing countries, it is usually the role of women to provide household energy. According to Peters and Wolper (1994 p 112), women assisted by girls in these societies have to ensure that there is enough fuel wood in the house for cooking. It is common to find women walking long distances in groups to fetch fire wood. There are usually many risks involved in such activities including attacks by wild animals, aggression from forest guards and private forest owners, health risks due to carrying heavy loads for long distances as well as physical injuries.
Feminization of Household Energy
Feller et al (2003 p 71) observe that household energy has been made a feminine affair in virtually all communities in the less developed countries and therefore to conserve forest resources, it is important to target women who are the take as read consumers of fuel wood. This can be done through educating them on the importance of forest conservation as well as the risks associated with the use of fuel wood. They can also be educated on other alternative sources of energy which will ensure that once they stop relying on firewood, they are still going to maintain their role of providing household energy.
Alternative Sources of Energy
There are many alternative sources of energy other than relying on forests for wood. Solar energy is one of the cheapest sources of household energy. It can be used for cooking, lighting as well as running household appliances. It is regarded as clean energy that has no adverse impacts on the environment since no pollutants are generated in its acquirement, or usage. On the other hand, it is free energy that is not limited in supply. The use of solar energy for cooking helps in maintaining a safe indoor environment. People can not suffer adverse health impacts of smoke such as respiratory problems that emanates from fuel wood cookers. This is important in the maintenance of a healthy population in regard to breathing fresh air.
The major drawback in the use of solar energy, as Olofsson and Bengtsson (2008 p 81) observe is the fact that the cost of installation of a solar system is high, which is one factor that limits the use of solar power. On the other hand, it is usually not sufficient during cloudy seasons and at night. This means that even if the women may be taught on using it during the day, there has to be a second alternative for use at night.
Biogas is also another important source of household energy. This is energy that is generated from organic materials, especially animal waste (Michael 1991 p 12). A large amount of gas can be produced for cooking, which significantly minimizes the amount of fuel wood extracted from the forests. On the other hand, the animal waste which would otherwise have decomposed and released green house gases in the atmosphere is contained, thereby helping to maintain a clean environment. However, it requires a household to possess animals such as cattle, which is a major barrier to those who can not afford.
Ethanol (adopted by GAIA in Ethiopia)
Ethanol is also a major source of energy for cooking purposes. It is relatively cheap to generate and has several cooking advantages over the other sources of fuel such as kerosene (Earthworks Group 1990 p 6). It has been successful in many communities, and has helped in reducing the rate of forest destruction for the purposes of fuel wood collection. On the other hand, it is usually developed from waste such as that from sugar mills. This is a significant way of reducing environmental pollution through utilizing waste to generate energy. It also helps in minimizing indoor pollution since it does not produce smoke such as other fuels.
Benefits of Using Renewable Energy
The use of renewable energy significantly promotes the efforts for environmental conservation. It is also important in protecting women from the problems associated with fetching firewood from long distances. Apart from avoiding such risks, the time spent walking these distances can be utilized for other purposes such as caring for the children and attending to other household chores. Studies indicate that more than 40% of girls growing up in less developed countries and more so amongst the refugees, lack access to basic education due to household obligations. The major ones are fetching firewood and water (Hajdukowski et al 2008 p 121). This is a major problem that needs to be addressed within such communities. If these essential commodities could be available, more girls can be allowed to attend school.
Culture of Dependency
Acceptance of the alternative sources of energy amongst communities is a major factor that determines success of such projects. Many communities conserve their culture and tend to resist changes in regard to the culture of dependence on fuel wood for household energy. Since the time when man in his evolution discovered the art of making fire, it has remained his major source of energy for cooking and warming purposes (Newman 1994 p 27). It requires a lot of efforts to convince many communities who preserve their traditions to change from these practices to the modern methods of cooking. For example, many communities who preserve their traditions prefer meat roasted through the use of charcoal. Many usually do not accept the fact that solar energy can be as good as fire in cooking such meals. Dependency of fuel wood is a factor that needs to be addressed in many communities.
Access to Alternative Sources of Energy
Access to the alternative sources of energy largely depends on the living conditions of families. For example, communities living close to forest land are likely to use fuel wood as their major source of energy although some fire wood collectors may travel long distances to the forest for this purpose, while others use locally available fire wood from their farms. Refugees usually do not possess land in the foreign country. Despite this fact, their needs are the common needs for virtually every human being. They need fuel, but they have very limited access to the available sources unless the organizations that provide humanitarian services intervene (Robertson 2006 p 92). Such organizations can be important in offering protection for the refugees, especially women who are exposed to risks associated with collection of fuel wood.
Protection of Refugee Women
Refugee women usually maintain their family roles despite living far from their homes. The UNHCR has set principles for the protection of refugee women (Robert and Williams 2007 p 87). These include protection of these women against physical attacks, sexual aggression, and such kind of problems that may arise from their exposure to risk caused by war. However, in order to facilitate this, it is important to address the cause of this exposure. As Loescher (2003 p 56) states, there is a great possibility that gender based violence takes place when the aggressor is presented with an opportunity to carry out violent activities against victims. When women walk long distances to fetch firewood, they are exposed to the risks of rape, harassment as well as wild animals. The most important step towards provision of security is ensuring that they are not exposed to these dangers, such as provision of alternative sources of energy.
Provision of Alternative Source of Energy
According to Josphat (2003 p 66), alternative sources of energy originate from inventiveness. It is important to ensure that the target groups are sensitized on the significance of using these alternative energy sources in order for them to understand why they have to leave their conventional sources. On the other hand, it is also important to train the people on how the innovative sources work in order for them to be used effectively. This is important in ensuring that there is acceptance of the new ideas in the society. Sarah (1991 p 36) observes that many NGOs fail to accomplish their mission due to lack of providing sufficient information to their target groups in order for them to accept change. GAIA, which is an NGO in Ethiopia, has plans to ensure that ethanol stoves are provided to all households including the low income class. The organization has managed to supply such stoves in several areas including Kebribeyah, which is one of the refugee camps in the country, and will move to several other refugee camps in the Eastern part of the country (GAIA report 2008).
Community projects usually require funding in order for them to accomplish their objectives. As Agosin (2001 p 23) observes, it is important for NGOs to ensure that the confidence of donors is maintained. This can only be achieved once the targeted population accepts the project. The UNHCR has an obligation to maintain the safety of refugees and ensure that they have access to safe food and water as well as health facilities. With the initiative of GAIA to provide the stoves, it is important for other players in governments and donors concerned with environmental conservation to support such projects. Once the refugees begin using the environment friendly cookers, women will not be exposed to the risks associated with travelling to forests to collect firewood. They can instead utilize the time to do meaningful activities. On the other hand, girls will not be exposed to health risks at a tender age.
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