Solar energy saves lives in Libya

At the same time as the conflict in Libya continues, the citizens are faced with a lack of societal functions. Power outages are many and can be a direct danger to life for people in need of care. Installing solar panels in hospitals is a simple but vital measure, writes Noura Hamladji, country director of the UN development program UNDP in Libya.

The conflict in Libya leaves people in the dark - literally. Basic services for citizens continue to deteriorate, as does the electricity supply with power outages of up to 48 hours.

For most Libyans, these power outages are troublesome and even potentially dangerous. For those people who are dependent on medical devices, power outages become a matter of life and death. When electricity fails in clinics, maternity wards, operating rooms and laboratories, people's lives are at stake. Last year, two patients admitted for kidney dialysis died when the electricity disappeared and the life-saving machines stopped working.

After that, the hospital in southern Libya contacted the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and asked for help. The medical staff desperately wanted to save lives, but the weak electricity network made their work more difficult. The staff had heard about programs by UNDP when solar panels were installed in hospitals that could provide uninterrupted power supply to the most important care rooms.

As a sustainable, renewable and clean energy source, solar panels can help protect a country from price fluctuations in the global energy market. We do not hear about Libya's energy sources other than oil and gas. However, there is great potential for solar energy in Libya, especially in the warm deserts in the south.

The solar panels reduce dependence on the national electricity grid, instead guaranteeing a renewable and easy-to-handle energy source. The solar panels meet people's urgent needs with a long-term and sustainable solution.

Nine hospitals have solar panels

Today, nine hospitals around Libya get their electricity from solar panels - giving half a million people access to uninterrupted care. The panels are part of an internationally supported stabilization program aimed at facilitating Libya's peace process during a period of political and economic recovery.

After years of conflict, much of Libya's basic infrastructure has been dismantled. 1 in 5 hospitals in Libya have had to close down. Half of the hospitals that are still open do not have the means to operate at full capacity.

Libya needs significant investment to review the grid, as well as schools, hospitals and more. The rebuilding required must be done in a systematic way, but only when the situation is more stable.

On the other hand, we can not wait that long. As the situation worsens, we must intervene now. Even during the ongoing peace process and political dialogue, we can ensure that basic services work. We can improve the daily lives of millions of Libyans and give them hope, which in turn strengthens the peace process.

This is how stabilization works. From Iraq to Sudan; Yemen to the Central African Republic; and Pakistan. It looks different in every context but is always about quickly creating fundamental improvements in people's daily lives and through it strengthening political and social stability.

Thousands need kidney treatments

For people suffering from kidney disease - a major health problem in Libya - stabilization means a safe and sustainable supply of electricity to their hospitals. In war-torn Benghazi, in northern Libya, more than 2 people need kidney treatments such as dialysis or kidney transplants.

Solar panels and a generator were installed at Benghazi Al-Kwayfia Hospital during the stabilization work. The staff can now continue to take care of patients even when the electricity grid fails. The panels have drastically reduced the hospital's energy costs, which has led to two new rooms being built to sterilize equipment and for patient observation.

The solar panels came too late for the two patients who died in southern Libya last year, but the use of renewable energy will keep many other patients alive, especially if the program can be expanded to even more hospitals.

This is just a reminder of the tough conditions many Libyans face today, and despite Libya's struggling with conflict, lack of societal functions and insecurity, relatively simple efforts can make a huge difference.

Noura Hamladji

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