Syrian Earthquake Victims
BetterShelter is a Swedish nonprofit organization that provides temporary shelter for people that armed conflict, natural disasters or homelessness displace. Founded in 2010, the organization claims to have improved the lives of 400,000 people suffering from displacement in more than 80 countries. It is currently one of many organizations providing humanitarian aid for Turkish and Syrian earthquake victims.

Challenges of Providing Aid to Syria

Providing humanitarian aid in Syria is not an easy feat. According to USAID, the situation in Syria is the “largest and most complex humanitarian crisis of our time.” In Syria, 15.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance this year, with many people needing aid as a direct result of the Syrian Civil War.

Parties to the Syrian conflict also prevent humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it, whether it be diverting, blocking or other means of preventing aid from getting through. Aid workers have been victims of violent attacks in the past, which hampers relief efforts. Politics further affect aid, with nations like Russia and China, who hold permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council, vetoing renewals of cross-border aid operations to Syria in the past. Therefore, it came as no surprise that efforts at providing humanitarian aid for Syrian earthquake victims faced challenges.

Initially, the U.N. did not send trucks carrying humanitarian aid to Syria en masse. The U.N. only scaled up humanitarian aid for Syrian earthquake victims after an agreement between them and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that saw two additional border crossings open. With aid often facing hurdles like these, Dame Barbara Woodward, the British Ambassador to the U.N., stated that the earthquakes “brought into sharp focus the importance of unhindered and predictable access, without conditions, into north-west Syria.” While the U.N. and other organizations ramp up their aid operations, so is BetterShelter.

BetterShelter’s Impact

BetterShelter is no stranger to working in Syria. In fact, it has had a footprint there for quite some time. In partnership with the U.N. in 2020, it provided Relief Housing Unit (RHU) shelters to numerous refugee camps in Syria. RHUs were also “medical support shelters” when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the country. In 2021, the organization sent RHUs to Syria, assisting another nonprofit organization in providing shelter to displaced families in the country.

The earthquakes have had a massive negative impact on the well-being of Syrians. The World Bank estimates that nearly $5.1 billion in “direct physical damage” took place in Syria and that the four governorates with “widespread damage” are home to around 10 million Syrians. Half of the total damage was direct damage to residential buildings, making the need for BetterShelter technology even direr.

With €10 million in funding from fellow Swedes at the IKEA Foundation, BetterShelter ramped up its operations in the country, as well as neighboring Turkey. The funds from the IKEA Foundation will provide 5,000 RHUs to those who the earthquakes impacted. For those in Syria, where BetterShelter says “delivery of critical aid has been delayed by the decades-long war that has already displaced 13 million people,” humanitarian aid for Syrian earthquake victims by companies like BetterShelter is a sign of hope for their recovery from the devastating quakes.

– Mohammad Samhouri
Photo: Flickr

Inadequate Sanitation In IndonesiaCommunities throughout Indonesia are receiving help with sustainable and clean water access. Sanitation poses a significant threat to the health and safety of people in Indonesia. USAID reports that 2.4 billion people worldwide have inconsistent access to sanitation. The organization predicts that nearly 40% of the world does not use safe toilets. This can significantly increase the spread of infection and disease.

Proper sanitation is crucial in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, which are more severe to those living in poverty without access to adequate healthcare. The primary cause of child mortality in Indonesia is diarrhea. Typhoid is also a leading threat to the health of Indonesians. Both diarrhea and typhoid are amplified by inadequate sanitation, poor hygiene and limited water supply.

Water Contamination Spreads Disease

According to USAID, “In Indonesia, one in three people does not have access to a flush toilet, latrine or septic system.” Instead, many Indonesians defecate in the streets, which further compromises the health and safety of people living in those communities. Rivers, streams and runoff are often the only water source for residents of rural areas. Without proper resources for treatment, water can carry diseases that are harmful and even deadly to those who consume it.

Only about 7% of wastewater in Indonesia is treated. As a result, many communal water access areas have contaminated water. In impoverished areas, it is not sustainable for communities to continually purchase bottled water. In the capital city, Jakarta, pollution can be found in 96% of the water. There is also a widespread disconnect from infrastructure in residential areas, leaving hundreds of families without consistent access to sanitation.

With the new challenge of the pandemic, Indonesia is facing the highest fatality rate in Asia as a result of inadequate access to sanitation, which is necessary to fight the spread of the disease. When families are struggling to meet their basic needs for consumption and hygiene, regular hand washing and adequate sanitization practices are not a priority.

Educational and Financial Support

Organizations like UNICEF are supporting the government of Indonesia. They help provide more frequent and safe access to sanitation and drinking water. In emphasizing education and health literacy during primary school, UNICEF aims to get ahead of the problem. “Over the past 25 years, the rate of access to sanitation facilities has nearly doubled across the country, increasing from 35% in 1990 to 61% in 2015,” reported USAID. USAID has also greatly contributed to this cause. In 2015, the organization helped more than 2.2 million Indonesians improve their water supply and provided better sanitation to 250,000 people.

The IKEA Foundation is also fighting the issue by providing microfinance loans to Jakarta for the introduction of pipelines and water access to rural residential areas. Families living in low-income areas are spending a lot of money to purchase water. With the installation of pipelines and clean well systems, sanitary water is becoming more accessible and affordable to those who need it most.

Ally Reeder
Photo: Flickr

Ikea’s Second-Hand Furniture
Starting November 27, 2020, Swedish furniture giant IKEA will start its unique buy-back scheme. The idea is to allow customers to return IKEA products, receive a voucher in return for the exchange, then resell the furniture pieces at 50% of the original price. Spanning across 27 different countries, IKEA is trying to take a stand against the excessive consumption trends that Black Friday promotes. This scheme displays a prime example of how IKEA has increasingly involved itself in the humanitarian sector, and actively fights against environmental challenges, poverty and unsustainable living practices. IKEA’s second-hand furniture store initiative is just one example of these efforts.

How IKEA’s Second-Hand Furniture Store Initiative Works

IKEA plans on taking back unmodified, clean upholstery products. It will then resell these products in the AS-IS department or it will recycle them if it deems them unsellable. In late 2020, IKEA’s first entirely second-hand furniture opened in Eskilstuna, Sweden; the overarching purpose of the buy-back scheme and the second-hand store in Sweden is to push toward the company’s goal of becoming a completely circular and climate-positive business by 2030. Not only do these initiatives help the environment, but they also benefit people around the world in poverty. The staggering price drop on repurposed furniture will greatly benefit those who typically could not afford furniture pieces. Considering the great range of this global initiative, lower socioeconomic classes will greatly benefit from this second-hand furniture scheme.

IKEA’s Humanitarian Work

IKEA has been gradually increasing its presence in the humanitarian sector, from its support of organizations such as UNICEF and Save the Children to the opening of its own advocacy humanitarian organization called the IKEA Foundation. Grounded in the IKEA Foundation Ethical Framework, the company prioritizes cost-consciousness, responsibility, leadership, renewability and caring for people and the planet. The IKEA Foundation strongly supports many causes, such as:

  • The Environment: IKEA is calling on governments, corporations and philanthropic groups to help reverse the damage that people have done to the environment.
  • Agricultural Livelihoods: IKEA values planet-positive approaches to agriculture that regenerates resources, enhances biodiversity and improves farmers’ incomes.
  • Renewable Energy: IKEA invests in renewable energy programs in parts of Africa and Asia that center their work around people living in poverty.
  • Special Initiatives & Emergency Responses: The corporation provides unrestricted emergency funding to its partner organizations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
  • Employment and Entrepreneurship: IKEA invests in programs that aid youth, women and refugees who face employment barriers in East Africa and South Asia. It also supports the expansion of existing and growing businesses.

Preventing Child Labor

One particularly inspiring cause of the IKEA Foundation is to eliminate and prevent child labor across the world. The IKEA Foundation contributed to the efforts of Save the Children and UNICEF to reach children in 25,000 villages in Pakistan and India, and as a result, was able to help 16 million at-risk children in 2017. Another example of IKEA’s passion for helping the less fortunate was in 2009 when it donated $48 million to UNICEF to promote the survival of India’s most vulnerable populations of women and children. It raised this large sum through an IKEA Social Initiative, which fights for every at-risk child’s right to a healthy childhood and secure education.

IKEA has shown its ability to generate substantial results through its various humanitarian initiatives. With a variety of motivations behind its advocacy actions, ranging from climate sustainability to child poverty, the furniture company has shown that it is using its corporate success to aid in global issues. The buy-back scheme is yet another example of the company utilizing its global presence; while the initiative spans 27 countries, many people of lower socioeconomic classes, as well as the environment, will benefit from IKEA’s second-hand furniture scheme.

– Hope Shourd
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Kenya’s Tea LandscapesKenya is facing a massive deforestation crisis. As the world’s third-largest exporter of tea with more than 3 million people relying on the crop, the deforestation is detrimental to livelihoods and the planet. Kenyan tea landscapes rely heavily on firewood and charcoal for energy. The tea factories use copious amounts of firewood for production, however, this method exacerbates deforestation as the factories cut down millions of trees each year to keep up with demand.

Tea landscape households use firewood, charcoal and kerosene for cooking and lighting, and their use has severe health implications. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 17% of lung cancer-related deaths around the world result from high levels of exposure to carcinogens in household air pollution, with there being a higher risk for women.

The Renewable Energy Project

To alleviate these issues, the Rainforest Alliance, an intersectional nonprofit, works to protect the world’s forests and the livelihoods of farmers and forest communities. The organization’s Renewable Energy Project is working on the field to mitigate the harmful effects of deforestation while improving public health with more renewable energy in Kenya’s tea landscapes.  

The Borgen Project spoke with James Muyula, a senior associate with the Rainforest Alliance, to learn more about the Renewable Energy Project. Muyula has been involved in the project since October 2017. He works in the field to support and initiate activities geared towards the realization of the project.

“The Renewable Energy Project is catalyzing the use of efficient renewable energy technologies in Kenya’s tea landscapes at the factory and household level,” Muyula said. He told The Borgen Project that this four-year project aims to accelerate the use of sustainable biomass briquettes, renewable energy that is beneficial for environmental conservation, safer for the communities and offers local entrepreneurs more employment opportunities.


According to Muyula, the annual demand for firewood in Kenya exceeds 19 million cubic meters of forest cover with a projected increase to 22 million cubic meters by 2032. He also said that government development goals aim to recover the land to 10% forest cover by 2030. This is increasingly difficult as the tea factories currently rely on about 1 million cubic meters of firewood annually.

Deforestation is a key issue in Kenya. The country is currently at about 7% forest cover. “Forests are pertinent for rivers, where they flow from, and we are actually changing the ecosystems. Even the rainfall pattern is changing,” Muyula explained.

The destruction of forests severely impacts forest communities. These communities lose access to essential forest goods and services like food, water and supplies. Additionally, in 2010, deforestation accounted for 24% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The combined effects of challenging weather and deforestation on the livelihoods of farmers and local communities in Kenya’s tea landscapes pose a great threat that the reliance on heavy polluters like firewood and charcoal in households and factories exacerbates.

The Alternatives

The Rainforest Alliance, in partnership with Living Earth (EnSo Impact) and the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), are intervening to lower the need for firewood and other harmful energy sources at the factory and household levels. Funded by the IKEA Foundation, the project increases biomass briquette use and brings more efficient cooking stoves along with solar technologies to the communities in the tea landscapes.

According to Muyula, there are two categories of briquettes: carbonized (smokeless) briquettes for household cooking and non-carbonized briquettes for the tea factories. These are blocks of raw materials that burn longer than firewood with significantly lower indoor air pollution. In Kenya specifically, briquettes comprise of leftover sugarcane, bagasse, rice or coffee husks, macadamia nuts and sawdust. Small machines bind and compress the briquettes. After three of four days they are dry and ready for use.

While briquettes are not a new technology, Kenya does not have a national standard for them, leaving many skeptical of their quality. Part of the initiative to expand renewable energy in Kenya’s tea landscapes is to address the quality of the briquettes while optimizing their market with the KTDA. With the Rainforest Alliance, they create long term relationships with local entrepreneurs who supply the briquettes and incentivize their use in the factories.

Briquettes Improve Livelihoods

The Rainforest Alliance helps seven Household Energy Centers (HEC) where local renewable energy entrepreneurs build their briquette enterprises. This project has created substantial employment opportunities for the HECs. With briquettes now a main source of income, Muyula mentions that they earn between $150 to $200 a month. This income gives entrepreneurs the ability to build nice houses and purchase dairy cows for additional revenue. “Those are some of the things that are visible, that the project is proud of, ” Muyula said.

Renewable energy in Kenya and the use of briquettes means many households spend less time collecting firewood and have more time to invest in their farms. Green sources of lighting, like solar panels, also contribute to improved living conditions for the tea landscape communities. One example Muyula mentioned was that school children are actually improving in their studies, no longer having to endure classrooms with kerosene for lighting fuel, which affects the eyes.

“At the Rainforest Alliance,” Muyula said, “our vision is to create a world where people and nature thrive in harmony. We are working to create deep-rooted change on some of the world’s most pressing issues, including rural poverty, climate change, biodiversity loss and deforestation.”

This project aims to help over 50,000 families in Kenya’s tea landscapes by improving their quality of life, mitigating deforestation and creating healthier homes. Muyula told The Borgen Project that in the near future the Rainforest Alliance hopes to expand the work of catalyzing renewable energy in Kenya throughout Africa, bringing clean energy to every home and factory, improving public health and protecting the planet.

 – Rochelle Gluzman
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Rwanda
As of early 2019, estimates determine that Rwanda is host to approximately 150,000 refugees. To support this number, Rwanda maintains six refugee camps and four transit/reception centers, in addition to supporting refugee integration into urban areas. Rwanda is remarkable for its inclusive approach to refugees, most of whom are from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The national government, UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Government of Japan and other international, national and local organizations are all working to improve opportunities and livelihoods for refugees in Rwanda.

Approximately 79 percent of refugees in Rwanda live in the refugee camps, with the remainder — about 13,000 — living in urban centers. Rwanda gives refugees the right to do business and access health services, insurance, banking and education to promote integration. As of 2017, Rwanda had integrated more than 19,000 refugee students from Burundi into its national school system.

According to UNHCR, enabling the self-reliance of refugees is an essential part of its mission. UNHCR creates and supports initiatives that allow refugees to contribute to the economic development of their host country.

Ali Abdi has lived in Rwanda for 20 years after fleeing Somalia. After applying for a business card, he now runs a small convenience store and lives with his Rwandan wife. Ali described Rwanda as “a peaceful country” where “people do not discriminate.” He is thankful for his ability to be independent.

Supporting Refugee Entrepreneurs

In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, many refugees like Ali are finding success in entrepreneurship. UNHCR labels Kigali as a “City of Light” for its accepting and supportive attitude toward refugees. The Government of Rwanda is actively working to promote the integration of refugees into the city with targeted assistance.

For refugees aspiring to own their own business, Inkomoko is a local business consulting firm that trains and supports refugees with UNHCR’s support. Beginning in 2016, Inkomoko’s refugee program has worked with 3,300 refugees, resulting in the creation of 2,600 new jobs across the country, a significant boost to the economy. The director of Inkomoko’s refugee program, Lydia Irambona, stated, “Our main goal is to help them increase their revenue, get more customers and understand how to do business here.”

Annick Iriwacu, a Burundian refugee, went to Inkomoko after a referral from her cousin. She has since opened a successful business selling liquid petroleum gas. The business has grown enough for her to now have five employees. She stated, “They gave me the strength and hope to continue, because I was giving up.”

Financial Support for Refugee Camps

While refugees in Rwanda’s refugee camps have fewer opportunities for economic independence and contribution, supporting and protecting them is still crucial. In June 2019, the Government of Japan donated $270,000 to UNHCR Rwanda to cover the needs of 58,552 Burundian refugees in Mahama, the largest refugee camp in the country. This is one of many donations, as the Government of Japan has supported Rwanda for six years and provided a total of approximately $7 million to the UNHCR to support Rwandan refugees.

UNHCR intends to use the 2019 money to maintain and improve refugees’ access to legal assistance and protection against violence, as well as health care services. Refugee camps in Rwanda provide primary health care and send refugees to local health facilities if they require secondary or tertiary care, which can be costly.

Supporting Refugee Farmers

Many refugees living in Rwandan camps want to become more economically independent, however. While the refugee camps provide displaced people with access to basic education and health facilities, many refugees have found that working allows them to take further advantage of what Rwanda can offer them and their families.

The IKEA Foundation, UNHCR, the World Food Programme, the Government of Rwanda and the Food and Agriculture Organization have all provided funding. These organizations are working together to improve the livelihoods of both refugees and local Rwandan farmers.

In the Misizi marshland, 1,427 Rwandans and Congolese refugee farmers are working together for agricultural success. The project is also generating social cohesion, as the Rwandan and refugee farmers are learning to work together and recognize the benefits of cooperation. As of early 2019, these farmers had produced more than 101 tonnes of maize, the profits of which enabled them to feed their families.

Rwanda’s Example

Rwanda intends to continue its inclusive approach to refugees them become successful and independent whether they live in camps or cities. Refugees have found success in Rwanda because its government and international partners are working hard on their behalf.

While there is still more work to do to ensure that refugees in camps have access to work opportunities and that refugees in cities receive support in achieving economic independence, the nation serves as an example of how to successfully help refugees begin new lives and contribute to a country’s economy.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr