World’s First Solar-Powered Refugee Camp Opens in Jordan

06 June, 2017

Energy from sunlight is now providing electricity to Syrian refugees at a camp in Jordan.

The Azraq camp is the first in the world to completely operate on clean energy, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, or UNHCR.

The new power center uses hundreds of panels to collect energy from the sun. The solar power plant cost about $10 million to build.

The money came from the IKEA Foundation, a program that directs IKEA's efforts to help people living in poverty. The Swedish company donated one euro to the UNHCR each time someone purchased certain lighting products.

The power plant began operating in the middle of May. It currently serves about 20,000 Syrian refugees living in shelters. There are plans to expand the service to all of the camp's 36,000 refugees by early 2018.

Syrian refugees are now able enjoy evenings outside of their shelters at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. (UNHCR/Benoit Almeras Martino)
Syrian refugees are now able enjoy evenings outside of their shelters at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. (UNHCR/Benoit Almeras Martino)

Until only recently, people living there only had small solar lanterns to light up their living spaces. They also had very few ways to keep shelters and food cool.

In January, Jordan's power system began providing electricity to some of the camp's residents.

Now, the new solar plant will save the refugee agency about $1.5 million a year on fuel costs. U.N. officials say the savings can be used to pay for other much-needed assistance.

Kelly Clements is Deputy High Commissioner of the UNHCR. She says the solar plant marks a great turning point in the lives of the refugees.

"It means lighting for safety, for protection at night, for some cool – in terms of a fan on a hot summer's day - or some heat in the winter during the cold months."

Refugee Farhan Nazzal says having reliable electricity gives his family more individual freedom.

"Before electricity, we could not come and go as we please. At sunset we would be confined to our homes. Now that we have electricity, we can go to our neighbor's house, enjoy the evening, or our neighbors can come over. It is more enjoyable, we have fun and are happier."

Another refugee, Anas Ahmed, said the solar power now gives his children a way to study with the lights on. A fan also helps cool the area. He says electricity also helps the family in many other ways.

"We also have a fridge now, so we have cool water and can preserve our food. And a washing machine. I previously had to transfer water and my wife would wash clothes by hand. It's a lot easier for her now."

Setting up the power plant also provided jobs for about 50 refugees. They were trained and employed to build and set up the solar panels. They may even be able to use their new skills to find work outside the camp.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Faith Lapidus wrote this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted her report for Learning English, with additional material from the Associated Press, Reuters and the UNHRC. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

according – adv. as stated by or in

solar adj. of or related to the sun

paneln. a hard, flat surface used to cover something

lanternn. light source small enough to be carried

fann. device used to move air through an area to make it cooler

reliable adj. able to be trusted to successfully do something

confinedadj. very small

fridgen. device used to keep food and drinks cool and fresh

preserve v. keep something in its original state or in good condition