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Yemen: Solar Energy Powers the Fight against Covid-19

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Access to electricity is taken for granted in most high-income countries. It is easy to forget how vital a reliable power source is to ensuring access to health. In the world’s poorest regions, where the electricity network is patchy at best, and often non-existent, entire hospitals run on costly and polluting diesel generators.

Ensuring health facilities have an reliable power supply is critical to ensure good-quality healthcare. Because of fuel costs and frequent shortages, resorting to diesel generators is often not enough, and can lead to deadly power cuts.  

Most of the medical machines that depend on electricity are life-saving. Their interruption for just a few minutes may mean the loss of someone’s life,
- Dr. Abdulkareem Al-Jarmouzi, a health officer working with the Social Fund for Development, UNDP’s partner in Yemen

Solar technologies are a sustainable alternative that help hospitals save lives and cut their energy costs. Through the EU funded project Solar for Health interventions, UNDP and its partners support 14 countries, to equip health facilities with solar power – from solar rooftops to batteries.

Solar for Health
Solar for Health - Copyright: UNDP Yemen

This switch from diesel to renewable energy has enabled over 900 health facilities to have access to clean, affordable and reliable electricity while saving money which can be re-invested in health services.

As the world is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the solar electrification of health facilities is a game-changer in some of the world’s poorest communities. Here are three ways it helps the fight against COVID-19.

Solar energy helps making vaccine roll-out possible, as vaccines must be kept cool to remain effective. A successful vaccination roll-out relies on a consistent cold chain to transport vaccines from A to B, and a reliable way to keep vaccines refrigerated once they’ve arrived at their destination. 

Both are major challenges in the world’s poorest regions, where there is little to no access to electricity. The good news? Solar powered cooling solutions make it possible to safely store vaccines. For reliable access to electricity for health facilities, EU and UNDP aim to scale energy solutions for vaccination across the COVID-19 cold chain, deploy technologies such as portable solar power battery refrigerators to enable transport and last mile distribution of vaccines, as well as solar-power fridges and freezer to store the vaccines.

Solar technologies allow to power emergency clinics in conflict areas such as Yemen, where the health system was already in a dire state when the pandemic hit. 

Solar for Health
Solar for Health - Copyright: UNDP Yemen
People sometimes travel for hundreds of kilometers to find a fully functioning healthcare facility, especially from rural areas. Even if fully equipped and manned, healthcare facilities that consistently experience power supply interruptions or fuel shortages are not used for fear that someone may die.
- Dr. Jubran Al-Sulait, Consultant for the Sana’a Health Office
Solar for Health
Solar for Health - Copyright: UNDP Yemen

To help Yemen cope with the dual crisis of the civil war and the pandemic, with funding from the European Union, UNDP is rehabilitating 86 healthcare facilities by installing solar rooftops to reduce overall costs while ensuring improved electricity supply. To date 82 of the 86 targeted healthcare facilities – including nine with COVID-19 isolation units – have been equipped with solar power, ensuring better access to healthcare for 240,000 people across 12 governorates. 

Beyond the immediate COVID-19 response, the solar electrification of health facilities helps to build better health systems that leave no one behind. With reliable solar electricity, the clinics can remain open for longer, women can give birth without life-threatening power cuts, health workers can safely use medical machines, have uninterrupted access to clean water, as well as improved capacity, communications and data continuity – all while helping clinics reduce their operating costs and carbon emissions.

It also creates local jobs by training technicians to install and maintain solar panels, providing much needed livelihoods to vulnerable communities.  

Access to clean, affordable and reliable energy—Sustainable Development Goal 7— is critical to achieve nearly all other Sustainable Development Goals, from health to education, gender equality, poverty alleviation, climate action and more.

Original article posted by UNDP Yemen.