Sustainable Energy Technologies for Food Security in Humanitarian Contexts

A project aiming to enhance efficient collaboration and synergies among humanitarian actors working in the energy sector.



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    SET4food pilot projects.


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SET4food pilot projects

The SET4food pilot project, implemented in the first phase (2014-2015) with the aim of testing the DSS software elaborated within the project and applying innovative energy technologies for food utilization for refugees and internal displaced persons (IDPs). Thus a set of camps and informal settlements were assessed in four countries - Somalia, Central African Republic, Lebanon, Haiti - and finally selected to implement pilot activities. The methodology was defined by the SET4food staff, considering the inputs coming from the field. Finally, an extensive monitoring system was developed in order to collect data and evaluate the impact of such technologies.

Some definitions

Refugees: “someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country” [1].

Internal displaced persons (IDPs): “persons or groups of persons […]have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised state border” [2].

Displacement in the World
According to UNHCR global Trends 2013, 51.2 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide, whom about 16.7 and 33.3 million were refugees and IDPs, respectively. The following table reports the first 12 countries per number of individuals of concern [3].


Country / territory of asylum

Total refugees and people in refugee-like situations

IDPs protected / assisted by UNHCR

Other persons of concern

Total population of concern

COOPI presence

Syrian Arab Rep.












Dem. Rep. of the Congo










































Central African Rep.












Iran, Islamic Rep. Of






Table 1 – List of the 12 countries with the highest number of population of concern [3] and COOPI presence.


However in some countries situation has dramatically worsened since the beginning of 2014. For example the number of Syrian refugees moved up to 1,132,602 and 1,065,902 in Lebanon and Turkey (from 609,938 at the end of 2013), respectively [4]. Thus the selection of the four countries did not only consider only the number of both refugees or IDPs, but also other factors.

Then data provided by different International Organizations do not match, usually because definitions applied and/or datasets are different. A clear example is Haity: in July 2014 UNHCR reports the presence of just 7 IDPs, while IOM estimated that they were between 85.000 and 104.000 individuals [5].



[1]  United Nations, “Convention Related to the Status of Refugees.” 1951.

[2]  United Nations, “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.” 1998.

[3]  UNHCR, “UNHCR Global Trends 2013,” 2014. [Online]. Available: 

[4] UNHCR, “Syrian Refugees in the Region November 1st 2014,” 2014, 2014. [Online]. Available:  [Accessed: 03-Dec-2014].

[5] IOM, “IOM - PortauPrince - Haiti.” [Online]. Available:  [Accessed: 27-Feb-2015].


Selection of the countries for the pilot projects

Selection of the countries for the pilot projects

From a food security perspective, some of the top countries in terms of displacement are considered low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) by FAO, like DRC, CAR and Somalia [1]. Therefore this situation does not involve only displaced people, but the entire population. In the selection particular attention was paid to Sub-Saharan countries, the area with the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the World [2]. Unfortunately, not all the countries are an enabling environment to test innovative solutions, due to excessive the presence of insecurity, instability or other constraints.

Therefore COOPI decided to select the four countries through an internal evaluation process involving all the relevant staff, both in the headquarters and on the field.

The final decision was taken on the basis of the following guiding aspects:

  • Number of refugees and / or IDPs;
  • Relevance of the country for International Organizations;
  • Expected evolution of the humanitarian situation;
  • Social, political and economic Instability;
  • Security conditions for NGO staff regarding the implementation of pilot project activities;
  • Inputs provided by DG ECHO and other implementing partners;
  • Presence of COOPI;
  • Presence of either formal camps or informal settlements;
  • Geographical and linguistic considerations.

Identification of the camps/informal settlements

The relevant COOPI officers identified camps and informal settlements to assess. The following aspects were taken into consideration:

  • COOPI knowledge of the camp/settlement;
  • Average residence time of refugees/IDPs (long enough for testing innovative solutions);
  • Site accessibility and security conditions;
  • Expected needs regarding access to energy for food utilization.



[1] FAO, “FAO Country Profiles,” 2014, 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 03-Dec-2014].

[2] FAO, IFAD, and WFP, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014. Strengthening the enabling environment for food security and nutrition,” 2014. [Online]. Available:

Assessment Phase

The assessment methodology

The assessment aimed at analysing a set of characteristics of each camp/informal settlement, collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. Energy technologies for food utilisation were primarily evaluated. Indeed food cooking, food storage and access to water were the main components targeted according to FAO definition of food utilisation [1]. The following topics were targeted:

  • Characteristics of the area of intervention;
  • Refugee/IDPs description;
  • Food typologies consumed;
  • Access to water;
  • Access to energy;
  • Presence and access to local resources.

Within these topics, different aspects were investigated, like social, technological, and legal. Also the presence and role of other international organizations were briefly assessed, as well as a general overview of market characteristics related to energy for food utilisations.

Practically the assessment was carried out by COOPI, with the technical support of Politecnico di Milano. COOPI field staff collected primary data, through interviews, focus groups, and direct observation. Practices, displaced people’s perception, constraints and opportunities were evaluated through two assessment forms, dealing about both technical and descriptive aspects.

Politecnico di Milano and COOPI staff in Milan reviewed all the data and asked field staff for clarifications and extra-data.

Then innovative solutions were proposed and discussed, in order to evaluate acceptability and feasibility. The process was iterative and allowed to collected further information about the settlements targeted by the project. Finally a set of technology per each settlement was defined.

Download the assesment form with the descriptive aspects.

Download the assessment form with the technical aspects.


[1] W. M. Rivera, “Agricultural extension, rural development and the food security challenge,” Rome, Italy, 2003.

Analysis of findings and Proposal of technologies

Analysis of findings

Data collected during the assessment phase were analyzed from a food utilization perceptive. Thus the following components of food utilization were considered:

  • Food cooking
  • Food preservation
  • Power generation
  • Water purification

In particular power generation was considered as a requirement for one or more of the other components. Moreover it was decided to test also the indirect impact of having an improved access to energy on food utilization, and consequently food security, of refugees and IDPs. Analysis of data showed which components required an improvement, thus they were the only considered during the proposal of technologies.

Data about such components were analyzed starting from the practices in place, and the technologies available in the host community. Then opportunities were considered, like presence of alternative energy sources, as well as constraints. Indeed some technologies were considered not applicable or too risky. Also the attitude towards sharing some technologies with other families (e.g. cookstoves or food storage) was considered, in order to propose a certain level of use (e.g. individual, household, multi-household, community).

Proposal of technologies

Politecnico di Milano’s staff proposed the technologies, but the process followed the same logical framework of the Decision Support System (DSS) available on this website. However the technologies proposed were supposed to be particularly innovative, thus standard solutions were excluded, with the sole exception of consolidated technologies applied with a new approach (i.e. how to use it, level of use) or in integration with others. Technologies recommended and currently in use in camps and informal settlements are well-described by the Guidelines available on this website.

Out of the set of appropriate technologies identified, as the DSS does, the specific technologies to test were decided with COOPI staff, both in the headquarters and on the field, in order to carefully consider also social and other non-technical aspects. Also the displaced people were partially involved, like during the data collection process, giving important indications on the acceptability of such solutions.

In general the technologies proposed should meet one of the following two objectives:

  • Reduce the environmental and, if possible, social load of the hosted community on the host community;
  • Test solutions which could provide an important improvement not only for the hosted community, but also for the host community.

An example of the first objective is the use of improved cookstoves, which greatly reduce firewood consumption, resulting in deforestation slowing down. About the second objective, local communities can benefit of the local testing of technologies using new renewable energy sources (e.g. wind, hydro), and consider it as a reliable reference. Indeed a humanitarian action could lead to a benefit for the whole population in terms of improved access to technology, also resulting in an improved perception of displaced people.


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