AMMAN — “In Syria, we were used to a particular lifestyle, and then we were disconnected from it when we became refugees,” says Fatima, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan with her two sons. “For someone who is used to having electricity, you cannot imagine how difficult it is to live without it.”
The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the most monumental humanitarian disasters of our time. The millions of displaced Syrians have overwhelmed the capacity of the surrounding countries to care for them. There is good news, however.
Fatima and her family, along with the more than 20,000 refugees living in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan will now be connected to the power grid. Azraq, the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, is being run solely on renewable energy via a two-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant.
“Lighting up the camp is not only a symbolic achievement; it provides a safer environment for all camp residents, opens up livelihoods opportunities, and gives children the chance to study after dark. Above all, it allows all residents of the camps to lead more dignified lives,” according to U.N. Refugee Agency deputy high commissioner Kelly T. Clements.
Azraq has become the first refugee camp in the world to be powered by clean, renewable energy. Mohammad, a 20-year old Syrian who fled the violence in 2012, was recruited to assist in building the frames for these solar panels.
“I wasn’t able to finish my education because of the war and then exile, but this has given me a practical skill that I can hopefully use in the future,” Mohammad said. “If we return to Syria, the infrastructure is all destroyed, but this is a technology that we could use to rebuild.”
It is no secret that Syria will take decades to rebuild. However, the developments in the Azraq refugee camp will undoubtedly provide a roadmap for building sustainable societies using clean energy.
The project in Azraq is not the only development of clean energy in Jordan. Although the Middle East is known for its oil-rich lands, renewable energy projects are taking hold throughout the region. Jordan specifically is becoming a key player in the development and implementation of this all-important technology.
Jordan ranks second in the Middle East for creating a favorable environment for green technology investment according to EDAMA, a Jordanian business association tasked with leading the way towards a green economy in the country. Without the benefits and burdens of large oil reserves like that of its neighbors, Jordan has turned to alternative, sustainable energy sources.
The surge in clean energy in Jordan does not only benefit the refugee camps, however. Abdul Latif Jameel Energy, a Saudi Arabian solar panel developer, has secured financing for a third renewable energy power plant in Jordan. The previous two projects, Mafraq I and II, have powered more than 120,000 homes in Jordan with clean energy.
Water and energy top the list of critical needs in the country. Jordan historically suffers from water and power shortages that have been exacerbated by the influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. In the port city of Aqaba, however, these issues are being addressed simultaneously.
This year, Jordan has launched a new project in partnership with the Sahara Forest Project. This new facility cools greenhouses using seawater, then desalinates the water using a solar-powered plant. It is set to produce nearly 10,000 liters of fresh drinking water daily, alleviating the severe shortages throughout the country. This facility not only supplies Jordan with badly needed drinking water, but also allows its agricultural production to improve through increased irrigation.
Fatima, Mohammad and thousands like them will continue to benefit from the prevalence of clean energy in Jordan. Despite the political and economic conditions plaguing the region, the future for clean energy in Jordan are bright, setting an example for the Middle East and beyond.
– Daniel Cavins