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solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Rift Valley FeverIn 1999, NASA scientists theorized that at some point soon, they would have the ability to track outbreaks (via satellite) of Rift Valley fever (RVF). This disease is deadly to livestock and occasionally, humans, in East Africa. They already knew the method needed but did not yet have enough data. NASA scientists had already surmised that outbreaks were directly related to El Niño weather events and knew that areas with more vegetation would breed more disease-carrying mosquitoes. To see the exact areas that would be most at-risk, satellites would need to track differences in the color and density of vegetation, from year to year.

Prediction of Rift Valley Fever

In 2006, NASA scientists predicted and tracked an outbreak of Rift Valley fever in East Africa. Unfortunately, even with intervention efforts, the 2006 outbreak led to the deaths of more than 500 people and cost the regional economy more than $60 million. This was due to export restrictions as well as livestock deaths. However, the aim of researchers was not to entirely stop that outbreak. The results of that mission gave researchers confidence that they could predict the next outbreak even better the next time.

Ten years later, the NASA team successfully predicted the location of the next potential outbreak and warned the Kenyan government before the disease could strike. Thanks to the combined efforts of NASA and the Kenyan government, Kenya saw no outbreak of Rift Valley fever in 2016. This, in turn, saved the country millions of dollars and protected the lives and livelihoods of rural farmers, throughout the country.

Focus on Cholera

With the success of Rift Valley fever prediction in 2006, NASA researchers became confident they may predict all disease outbreaks. Moreover, they believed they could halt them, using satellite technology. Researchers are especially focused on neglected diseases like cholera which are connected to environmental conditions and hit developing countries and impoverished people the hardest. Newer satellites add the ability to measure variables like temperature and rainfall. This enables researchers to use more than just the visual data, used in the initial Rift Valley fever predictions. Consequently, this significantly improves their models.

Cholera is perhaps the most promising disease, analyzed by new scientific models due to its scale. Nearly 3 million people contract and almost 100,000, die each year. Moreover, it spread directly links to weather events. There are two distinct forms of cholera, endemic and epidemic. Endemic cholera is present in bodies of water primarily during the dry season. Also, communities living along coasts are typically ready for the disease. Epidemic cholera comes about during extreme weather events like floods and inland communities are often unprepared for the disease. Both forms of the disease proved to be perfect candidates for modeling by disease researchers. In 2013, a NASA team successfully modeled cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh.

The Yemen Model

The real test of the NASA team’s predictive models would come in 2017. The use of the model in Yemen proved to work near perfectly. Researchers predicted exactly where the outbreaks would occur, nearly a full month in advance. The success of the model in impoverished and war-torn Yemen is especially notable. This is because it could mean less of a need for more expensive and dangerous methods of disease research. Instead, early warning systems are an implementable option. Even if they fail, medical professionals can send vaccines and medications to exactly the right locations. Cholera outbreaks and their disproportionate death rates among the global poor will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.

By halting outbreaks before they begin, international aid lends itself more efficiently. Information is valuable and the more information poverty-fighting organizations have, the better they can spend their dollars to maximize utility and help the most people. As satellite technology advances along with newer predictive models, preventing disease outbreaks could save developing economies and aid organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year, along with thousands of lives.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in Yemen
The Yemen civil war, which began in early 2015 and still devastates the nation today, has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. A total of 24 million people require assistance. This crisis affects all aspects of life in Yemen, including healthcare. Millions are without access to life-saving medical treatment and supplies, leading them to die of preventable diseases, such as cholera, diabetes and diphtheria. Pregnant women and infants are particularly vulnerable during this health crisis as adequate medical care throughout pregnancy and birth is essential. Maternal health in Yemen is of the utmost concern now.

Yemen has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 17% of the female deaths in the reproductive age caused by childbirth complications. Maternal health in Yemen has never been accessible to all women. This crisis has escalated even further during the Yemeni civil war. However, global organizations are acting to save the lives of these pregnant women and infants who desperately need medical care.

Yemen’s Maternal Health Crisis: Before the Civil War

Even before the war began in 2015, pregnant women were struggling to get the help they needed. Yemen is one of the most impoverished countries in the world — ranking at 177 on the Human Development Index (HDI). Poverty is a large factor in the insufficiency of maternal health in Yemen as impoverished women lack the finances, nutrition, healthcare access and education to deliver their babies safely.

Many Yemeni women are unaware of the importance of a trained midwife during childbirth. Of all the births in rural areas, 70% happen at home rather than at a healthcare facility. Home births increase the risk of death in childbirth as the resources necessary to deal with complications are not available.

The Yemeni Civil War Increased the Maternal Health Crisis

Since the civil war began, the maternal mortality rate in Yemen has spiked from five women a day in 2013 to 12 women a day in 2019. A variety of factors caused this spike. The war has further limited access to nearly every resource, including food and water. This, in turn, depletes the health of millions of women and thus their newborns.

Also, the civil war has dramatically decreased access to healthcare across the nation. An estimated 50% of the health facilities in the country are not functional as a result of the conflict. Those that are operational are understaffed, underfunded and unable to access the medical equipment desperately needed to help the people of Yemen. This especially affects pregnant women — who require medical care to give birth safely.

Organizational Aid

Though the situation in Yemen remains dire, various global organizations are acting to assist pregnant women and newborns. The United Nations Children’s’ Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is taking the initiative to help millions across Yemen, including pregnant women. The organization has sent health workers and midwives into the country’s rural areas to screen and treat pregnant women for complications.

Similarly, USAID trained more than 260 midwives and plans to send them into Yemeni communities to help pregnant women and infants. USAID is partnering with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Yemen Ministry of Public Health and Population and other organizations to ensure that maternal health in Yemen, as well as all types of healthcare, are adequate and accessible for all affected by the civil war.

Maternal health in Yemen, while never having been accessible for many, is now in crisis as a result of the Yemeni civil war. While the situation is still urgent, organizations such as USAID and UNICEF are fighting to ensure that all pregnant women and infants in Yemen have access to the medical care they desperately need.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in YemenWar and conflict exacerbate existing poverty. According to the World Bank’s 2007 Global Monitoring Report, fragile states, defined as those in civil war or without legitimate authority to make collective decisions, account for one-fourth of global poverty. In low-income countries, poverty rates average 22%, whereas, in states with conflict, the rates skyrocket to 54%. Poverty in Yemen is no exception to this trend. Yet, the world may consider Yemen the example of conflict exacerbating poverty if fighting continues. The 2019 United Nations Development Project (UNDP) report, Assessing the Impact of War in Yemen, estimates that Yemen could rank as the poorest country on Earth by 2030 if the conflict continues. Here is some information about the relationship between conflict and poverty in Yemen.

Yemen’s Civil War

The seeds of Yemen’s conflict began because of the disorganized power transitions that the 2011 Arab Spring prompted. However, 2015 marks the descent into a foreign-backed civil war. Since then, fighting between the Northern rebel Houthis has continued to decimate civilian communities and exacerbate poverty. Iran has backed this fighting, because of Shia religious interests, along with the remaining Yemeni government. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority countries trying to curtail Iranian influence have also supported it.

The 2019 UNDP report outlines poverty rates in both conflict and no conflict trajectories and shows that without conflict, Yemen’s poverty rate could drop dramatically. Though the country’s poverty rate started rising in 1998 due to poor economic growth, the conflict that began in 2015 increased the depth of poverty by 600% showing the relationship between conflict and poverty in Yemen. The amount of Yemen’s population that now lives in poverty, defined as less than $3.10 a day, hovers around 75%. UNDP projections suggest that 65% of that number could live in extreme poverty by 2022, meaning that they would exist on less than $1.90 a day.

Already struggling with poverty before the conflict, fighting in Yemen compounds the problem by destroying critical infrastructures, like hospitals. On top of that, the pre-2015 economy flatlined. However, the most harmful effect is on food supply. As Yemen relies on imports for over 90% of its food products, the war’s blockades and bombings prevent stable food transportation from ports. Oxfam International reports that two-thirds of Yemen’s population cannot predict where their next meal will come from.

Future Projections

Many say that Yemen suffers the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and such suffering will only increase with continued conflict. For example:

  1. By 2022, the UNDP report projects that 12.4 million Yemenis could live in poverty and that 15.8 million Yemenis could live in extreme poverty if the conflict persists.
  2. It also suggests that the depth of poverty could increase to 6,000% by 2030 compared to the rate of poverty in pre-war Yemen.

However, if the conflict ends soon, Yemen would stand 8% closer to the UNDP’s sustainable development goals of no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education and gender equality than it did in 2014. If the conflict ends, the total projected poverty in 2030 would underperform 2014 levels by 3.1 million.

Foreign Aid to Address Poverty

To address poverty in Yemen as well as poverty in other war-torn states, organizations have recently implemented academic findings on the relationship between poverty and conflict.

Borany Penh, founder of the international data science and research firm, Dev-Analytics, and a researcher at the USAID Learning Lab says that “cross contributions from academic fields are beginning to clarify the kinds of solutions to poverty and conflict possible through institutional partnerships.” Penh argues that fixing the disconnect between academic literature and on the ground efforts would remedy less successful poverty reduction efforts in fragile states. Recent USAID funding acknowledges this point and now incentivizes partnerships among such fields.

For example, to better address poverty in Yemen, USAID currently funds the Yemen Communities Stronger Together (YCST) grant which supports projects and institutions that focus on social cohesion in poverty-reduction efforts. Scholars, organizations and businesses qualify for YCST. This variable grant allows the intersection of academia, nonprofit organizations and businesses to combat poverty while capitalizing on stabilization opportunities. So far, YCST gave out two $30 million awards and plans to report on its impact after the three-year implementation period ends.

On the Ground

In addition to coalition forming efforts like YCST, decreasing poverty in Yemen requires logistic strategies for navigating conflict and fighting poverty. Many nonprofits help via basic aid services, but to do so, they must create solutions to disperse aid while circumventing war zones. The World Food Programme (WFP) found great success in this arena.

Understanding the limitations of transportation in Yemen, WFP attempts to spread food imports as widely and directly as possible. Through the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service and partner organization, Logistics Cluster, food aid reaches four major cities including Aden, Hodeidah, Sana’a and Djibouti, via air and sea routes. Each month 12 million Yemenis now access WFP food rations because of reimagined delivery systems.

However, in areas with viable markets, WFP works to provide cash assistance which, while fighting hunger, also bolsters the economy. The WFP provides food to school children too. Targeting devastated areas of Yemen, the WPF incentivizes education while addressing childhood malnutrition with a school lunch program that provides small meals to 680,000 students. This reflects the new nonprofit focus on sustainable poverty recovery rather than long-term reliance on service distribution.

Many other organizations have devised new ways of bringing aid to Yemen as conflict persists. However, as Penh argues and the institutions highlighted above actualize, linking nascent poverty and conflict studies to field practices is the most hopeful strategy for fighting poverty in Yemen and other fragile states. By ending the conflict which causes such extreme poverty, countries should not face dire projections that place their populations at risk.

– Rory Davis
Photo: Flickr