Refugees worldwide lack safe access to cooking fuel. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s first large-scale assessment of 3,308 refugee households found that individuals spend an average of 31 hours per month on firewood collection, and many of these refugees have experienced conflict with host community members while collecting the wood.

Since 2012, UNHCR and its partners - Caritas Burkina Faso (OCADES) and HELP - have been working to introduce renewable energy for cooking into refugee camps in Burkina Faso. One solar-powered cooker, the Blazing Tube, has met with considerable success among the Malian refugees in the camps.   

"Before the introduction of the stove, refugee women had to walk several hours a day to collect firewood," says Olivier Lompo, UNHCR Environmental Officer in Burkina Faso. "Since we have a lot of sunshine, the stove allows them to cook without spending any more time on firewood collection. And, more importantly, it does not produce any smoke - they love it."

UNHCR delivered Blazing Tube cookers to 601 households (1 per household), ranging from two to eight family members each. Feedback from the families indicate that the cooker has reduced their need for firewood.

To operate, a Blazing Tube requires approximately 5 liters of vegetable oil. A solar reflector generates heat, which is transferred to an electronic   glass tube containing the oil. The heated vegetable oil becomes more fluid and a portion of the oil overflows into a special container.  In the process, the heat transfers to metal cooking pots that are placed in the container, creating a bain-marie.

At peak operation, the vegetable oil can reach 200 °C or more, enabling fry cooking, as well as the ability to cook several different types of food.   Moreover, ingredients can be added gradually instead of having to be cooked all at once. A cooking box incorporated into the unit enables heat retention, helping to keep food warm for hours.

Since 2013 UNHCR has been developing and monitoring a step-by-step strategy for introducing solar cookers into the camps. Their efforts are focused on refugees who are already working with domestic energy partners, since they are the logical people to facilitate training among their peers about the advantages of improved cookstoves . To date, the strategy has proven beneficial to camp residents, and enthusiasm for the technology among the refugees demonstrates a significant willingness to adopt solar energy as an alternative to firewood.

UNHCR’s Burkina Faso project is one of many around the world addressing safe access to fuel and energy  (SAFE) – is a cross-sectoral issue that focuses on ensuring access to fuel and energy for cooking, heating, lighting, and powering for crisis-affected populations.  UNHCR is a member of the SAFE Humanitarian Working Group, a consortium of humanitarian agencies, NGOs, and private sector energy actors whose mission is to facilitate a more coordinated, predictable, timely, and effective response to the fuel and energy needs of refugees, IDPs, and other crisis-affected groups.

To learn more about SAFE projects and best practices, visit: