Coventry University project powering Rwandan hospital as refugee camp locked down by COVID-19

Nyabiheke camp community hall

Nyabiheke refugee camp community hall. Copyright Edoardo Santangelo/Coventry University

Wednesday 22 April 2020

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Elena Gaura

A solar-powered electricity system installed in an African refugee camp as part of a project led by Coventry University is now helping the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 The system was co-designed by refugees and researchers from Coventry University’s Centre for Data Science and is now powering a temporary field hospital.  

The system was installed at the community hall in Rwanda’s Nyabiheke refugee camp as part of the Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) project, which was established three years ago to undertake vital research into energy systems within self-settlements and refugee camps in Africa and Asia.  

The Nyabiheke camp is now in lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Upon agreement between camp governance and administration bodies, as well as Non-Governmental Organisations including UNHCR, ARC and Alight, the hall has now been repurposed as a hospital. The provision of a renewable system able to accommodate unexpected energy needs will greatly benefit COVID-19 treatment in Nyabiheke. 

When told by project partners about how the community hall was to become a hospital, Professor Elena Gaura, Associate Dean of Coventry University’s Faculty of Engineering, Environment and Computing, and Principle Investigator of the project noted that the refugees were more vulnerable to COVID-19.

 Find out more about research at the Centre for Data Science.

I am deeply concerned about the well-being of refugees at this moment as camp structures make them particularly vulnerable to the spread of infection. As the hall is being used directly in fighting COVID-19, the HEED team and I would like to think that all of the installations are in some way helping to improve life chances.  

These interventions are not just solar installations. They are routes to empowerment: as the refugees respond to the threat of COVID-19, they adapt the building to meet their needs, becoming agents of change - even in this time of crisis.

Prof Elena Gaura