Yemen’s ongoing crisis has resulted in widespread food scarcity, limited access to clean water, and inadequate medical assistance. In 2023, an estimated 80 per cent of the country struggles to put food on the table and access basic services. The lack of reliable electricity further exacerbates the suffering of affected communities. Thus, innovation is needed to alleviate some of these challenges, amid the protracted crisis. Exploring the potential of renewable energy solutions is a pathway for transforming the lives of affected communities. In this blog, I share my personal experiences of providing humanitarian support as a Programme Coordinator with the Arab Youth Sustainable Development Network (AYSDN), and explain how renewable energy can improve Yemen’s humanitarian response. As well as this, I share the challenges that we have encountered in implementing these solutions, and emphasise the need for investment and technical expertise to drive sustainable change.

The crisis in Yemen is complex and has been on-going since 2014, with different political factions vying for power over the country. In my role as a Programme Coordinator at AYSDN, I have been actively involved in coordinating and implementing renewable energy projects in Yemen. On a daily basis, I work closely with local communities affected by the crisis to identify their energy needs and develop appropriate solutions. This includes conducting assessments, managing project budgets, overseeing installations, and monitoring the impact of renewable energy interventions. I have witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by affected communities which have been exacerbated by the crisis, such as limited access to electricity, which impacts their daily lives, healthcare services, education, and overall development.

Harnessing the Potential of Renewable Energy

Electricity is essential for meeting basic needs and providing vital services in Yemen. It is used for powering homes, lighting, refrigeration for food storage, operating medical equipment, facilitating communication and connectivity, running water pumps, and supporting educational institutions. The lack of reliable electricity severely affects the quality of life and hampers the provision of critical services in healthcare facilities, schools, and other essential institutions.

Yemen’s current energy mix heavily relies on fossil fuels, particularly oil. However, due to the ongoing crisis, access to fuel has become increasingly scarce, leading to frequent power outages and increased reliance on expensive and polluting diesel generators at a household level. The crisis has disrupted the energy infrastructure, resulting in a decline in national energy production and consumption. This exacerbates the challenges faced by communities and highlights the urgent need for sustainable and alternative energy solutions.

Renewable energy, such as solar power, presents a transformative opportunity to address Yemen’s energy crisis. I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of harnessing this power. There are three projects I have worked on which illustrate how renewable energy can support the crisis response in Yemen:

  • Solar-powered water pumps: As part of the recent “Empowering Communities Through Renewable Energy” programme implemented by AYSDN, we successfully deployed solar-powered water pumps in rural areas, enabling community members to access clean water and significantly improving health and sanitation conditions. These pumps were installed in several villages, benefiting approximately 500 families. The project was funded through a grant provided by an international renewable energy organisation and implemented in collaboration with local community leaders.
  • Solar panels in hospitals: Renewable energy has also been harnessed to provide critical services in the Yemeni context. Through the collaboration with the International Youth Council – Yemen, we facilitated the installation of solar panels in three major hospitals in the cities of Marib, Taiz and Hadramout. This initiative has ensured uninterrupted power supply for essential medical services, enabling healthcare facilities to operate effectively even during power outages. The funding for this project was provided by a public-private partnership between several international development agencies. The installation was carried out with local engineers and technicians, serving as a pilot for future solar projects in other hospitals across the country.
  • Solar-powered microgrids: In 2021, we successfully brought electricity to households in remote villages through solar-powered microgrids, empowering over 3,500 individuals with lighting, communication, and essential services. By partnering with a prominent international renewable energy organisations, we had access to financial resources for equipment, technical assessments, installation and maintenance of the solar-powered microgrids. Additionally, local communities played a vital role in the project’s success, actively participating in the planning and decision-making processes. Skilled engineers, technicians, and local workers were engaged to install and operate the microgrids, fostering local skills development. As a result, electricity has improved education, enabling students to study in well-lit environments and access digital learning resources. Healthcare facilities have seen improvements as well, with reliable electricity supporting the operation of medical equipment and refrigeration systems for storing vital medicines.

These real-life examples from my work highlight the tangible benefits and transformative power of renewable energy in Yemen’s humanitarian response. By sharing these success stories, I aim to inspire further support and investment in renewable energy initiatives that can empower communities and contribute to the overall development and well-being of Yemen’s population.

Navigating implementation challenges

Despite the potential of renewable energy solutions in Yemen, and the positive experiences we have had implementing these solutions, there are still challenges in scaling its implementation. The two major challenges we faced were availability of technical expertise and funding. In Yemen, there is a shortage of skilled professionals with specialised knowledge in renewable energy technologies. This made it difficult to find qualified individuals who could design, install, and maintain renewable energy systems effectively. This slowed down project timelines, increased costs due to the need for external consultants, and sometimes led to suboptimal outcomes. Furthermore, inadequate infrastructure, such as outdated grid systems, added to the complexity of integrating renewable energy solutions which we needed expert opinions on. Secondly, securing adequate financial resources for scaling renewable energy remains a hurdle. While there is recognition of the importance of renewable energy in Yemen, insufficient funding inhibits the implementation and expansion of large-scale renewable energy projects.

The ongoing crisis in Yemen further exacerbates these challenges. The political instability and conflict have disrupted governance structures, hindered policy development, and strained financial resources. Prioritising renewable energy solutions amidst competing urgent needs becomes more difficult in such a complex humanitarian context. Additionally, the crisis has caused damage to energy infrastructure, making it even more challenging to integrate renewable energy systems into the existing grid.

The Path Forward: Collaboration and Empowerment

To unlock the full potential of renewable energy in Yemen’s humanitarian response, collaboration and local empowerment are essential. Our experiences with AYSDN have underscored the importance of forging partnerships between international organisations, governments, and local communities – we have found that collaborating with others has a multitude of benefits. Investing in the development of local talent and skills will help overcome the scarcity of experts and enable Yemenis to lead renewable energy initiatives in their own communities. Moreover, increased international support and funding can help scale up renewable energy projects and improve the overall energy infrastructure in Yemen.

Through my experience as a Programme Coordinator with AYSDN, I have witnessed the transformative power of renewable energy solutions in Yemen’s humanitarian response. By embracing solar power, Yemen can address the energy crisis and promote access to clean water, healthcare services, and overall development. Through investing in renewable energy, skills development, and fostering partnerships, Yemen can chart a path towards a sustainable and empowered future, improving the lives of millions affected by the crisis.