In one of the biggest refugee camps on the planet, Grantham Centre Director Tony Ryan works with academics, experts and refugees to help them grow food and develop amenities using pioneering techniques. Recycling materials from the camp – such as mattresses, bikes and yogurt pots – they have created a host of home improvements and innovations, including windmills, air conditioning, solar powered water heater and wheelchairs.
Tony Ryan has been working in the Za-atari refugee centre in Jordan since 2016, when he and Helen Storey from the London College of Fashion were invited to visit by the UNHCR. Tony and Helen have worked together for over a decade on projects that link chemistry, fashion and sustainability.
Tony is now part of an international team of varied experts – from engineers to social scientists – who regularly visit the camp and work to devise solutions to problems of agriculture, transport, sanitation and well-being which affect the camp.
Read Tony's article in the Conversation about this project here
The limitations at the refugee camp mean Tony’s team have to work creatively - with the end result being solutions that would never have been thought of in a lab.
There are plenty of materials to hand, sheet steel and angle bar, wood, canvas and poles from tents, and a stock of recovered bicycles donated by the Amsterdam Police and donations from two Sheffield companies, bicycle parts Planet X, cable and rigging equipment from Gripple.
Using these materials Tony’s team focused on co-created solutions for home-scale water heating and electricity generation, as well as mobility solutions such as wheelchairs and recycling trucks.
A material there’s plenty of in Za-atari are used mattresses. Grantham Scholar Harry Wright, one of Tony’s supervisees, has been developing ways to repurpose these for what might seem a surprising use - growing fruit and vegetables.
Hydroponics is a way of growing plants without soil, using a nutrient solution with plant roots supported in an inert medium. Yogurt tubs provided the pots and polyurethane foam from mattresses the growing media. The basic principles of this system were introduced to residents of the camp at a workshop run by Harry. Hydroponics mean residents in the camp can grow without breaking Jordanian law, which does not allow refugees to grow plants directly into the earth.
Read Grantham Scholar Harry Wright's blog about this here
Patrick Fairclough, a professor in mechanical engineering, led the project to produce energy from windmills. He is familiar with windmills to run pumps and generators from his childhood in South Africa.
Two vertical prototypes were built to generate electricity for home level and a horizontal bucket windmill to provide a direct drive to a fan inside a caravan, to provide some cooling in the hot summer months. The bottom bracket (where the pedals and cranks attach) from a bicycle was used as the bearing and thin aluminium wash basins for the buckets.
The solutions developed in Za’atari in response to the humanitarian crisis are the sort of solutions the world needs in order to respond to another global crisis: the environmental one. Dealing with this crisis means we must we reduce global consumption by recycling more materials. We also to deal with growing food in a changed climate - one with less water and more C02. New ways of providing power when natural resources of oil and gas run out (of course ideally we would use these green alternative before they run out) are vital. And we have to face the fact many more people will be living in refugee camps in the future - predictions estimate there will be millions of environmental refugees as a result of climate change - so finding innovative ways to help displaced people is all part and parcel of creating a sustainable future.