Solar Power Brings Electricity, Dignity Back To Syrian Refugee Camp

Jordan's Azraq refugee camp becomes first in the world powered with renewable energy

Azraq Refugee Camp, Jordan. — AFP/Getty Images
May 18, 2017 at 2:18 PM ET

The Azraq refugee camp in Jordan switched on the power Wednesday for the first time since it was built three years ago. A newly constructed solar power grid now provides power to 20,000 of the refugees of the Syrian conflict who now live in the camp, with its remaining 16,000 inhabitants due to receive power later this year. It’s the first refugee camp in the world powered with renewable energy.

The camp is located in a remote spot of northern Jordan’s often swelteringly hot desert, which meant it wasn’t connected to the country’s electricity grid when it first opened. The combination of its isolation and the resulting lack of power has led refugees to observe the greatest danger of the camp is dying of boredom, with many electing to risk the uncertainty of life in Jordan’s cities instead of the relative safety of the camp. It’s partially why the camp, which is built to house up to 130,000 people, is still only a quarter full, despite the Syrian crisis displacing millions.

The camp began using solar lanterns and generators earlier this year, but the newly constructed solar grid represents the first permanent source of electricity for the camp. That power has the potential to change the daily lives of the camp’s inhabitant, as Fatima, a 52-year-old woman from rural Damascus, explained in the United Nations Refugee Agency’s announcement.

“Before this, when we cooked a meal we had to throw the leftovers away because there was no safe way to store food,” she is quoted as saying. “When we got too hot, we had to pour water on our clothes to keep cool. Now we can listen to music or have a cold glass of water, and daily life no longer ends when the sun sets.”

Fifty camp residents worked on the construction and installation of the solar grid. For 20-year-old Mohammed, who had to leave school as a 14-year-old when the conflict began, this work offers skills training he potentially can use in the future. “If we return to Syria, the infrastructure is all destroyed, but this is a technology that we could use to rebuild,” he said in the announcement.

The camp’s residents will receive electricity for free, with any surplus power passed onto Jordan’s national grid. The United Nations estimates the solar plant will save about $1.5 million and 2,370 tons of carbon emissions each year.