Sana’a, Yemen: A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Yemen project that addresses solar power needs and provides solutions and hope for three frontline conflict communities has been announced as the winner of the acclaimed Ashden Awards for Humanitarian Energy. “UNDP Yemen is our first ever winner for energy in a humanitarian setting and we were especially inspired by the empowered role the women have in the ownership of the community microgrids,” says Harriet Lamb, CEO of Ashden.
UNDP Yemen has been recognized as one of the world’s most practical and scalable low carbon innovators and was among 11 winners selected from over 200 global applications in the areas of creating resilience, green growth, and fairer societies.
As part of a UNDP-managed joint project, the Enhanced Rural Resilience in Yemen (ERRY), the initiative addresses two major issues for the communities of Hajjah and Lahj: access to affordable and sustainable energy and providing sustainable income to Yemen's most vulnerable population, women and youth.
Cutting the cost of energy by 65 per cent, UNDP has worked with the women and youth to train, develop and manage micro-grid businesses to help electrify their communities one home and business at a time. “Community-owned solar microgrids are an ideal low carbon energy solution in any circumstance but is even more powerful given the conflict and ongoing hardship in Yemen,” says Harriet Lamb, CEO of Ashden. The project has helped 2,100 people gain access to disposable income and 10,000 people with access to sustainable energy.
In a country where women do not enjoy equal status, especially in the realm of work, this not only provides them with an opportunity to provide their families with food, shelter, medicine and other vital supplies, it allows them to have a voice in community decision making and to gain community respect. Rural women launching their own business is a remarkably rare undertaking in the country. “The project was not easy to get off the ground,” says Project Lead, Eman Hadi. “We went through a lot to establish this project because of the perspective Yemenis have on working women,” she indicated.
Before the conflict started in 2015, only 23 per cent of Yemenis had access to energy. The crisis has led to a deeper energy-related problem as fossil fuels continue to surge and embargos make it more difficult to obtain. Before the crisis, the cost of 20 litres of diesel was $7; today it costs up to $40, and is hard to come by, even in stations.
The UNDP programme has enabled communities’ access to affordable energy when there are no other viable solutions, by applying unique, low-cost and sustainable solar microgrid solution. Instead of diesel costing 42 cents an hour, solar energy costs only 2 cents, enabling the average person access. The solar microgrids offer an alternative, clean and renewable energy source that allows rural homes and businesses the ability to afford undisrupted electricity for hours.
“UNDP’s solar micro-grids provide a solution and hope in communities that have found themselves on the conflict’s frontlines,” said UNDP Resident Representative Auke Lootsma. “This allows communities an opportunity to regain some control of their future and allows the women and youth to take extreme pride in their business during a time of uncertainty and extreme difficulty.”
UNDP’s project is generously supported by the European Union and implemented with partners. Winning the Ashden Award will help UNDP to scale-up the solar micro-grids across Yemen, further cutting carbon emissions, support more vulnerable families and will keep important services like schools and health centers open during the conflict. Working with the private sector, it will be possible to move from micro to mini- grids to cater to more communities.
“The project is well-timed and has come during a period when more limitations and challenges are occurring for Yemenis. Working toward local renewable energy solutions that are combined with economic opportunities for the most vulnerable can help prepare Yemen to build back better,” says UNDP Resident Representative Lootsma.
UNDP supports the affected people and communities by conflict, war and pandemic by addressing humanitarian, development and peace building issues through economic, governance and peace support operations. UNDP works across Yemen to help people meet their most basic needs, restore livelihoods, support communities, and advance peacebuilding.