SANA’A, Yemen — As conflict drags on in Yemen, many people are turning to solar power to offset fuel shortages.
Since March, Saudi-led airstrikes have reduced much of Yemen’s infrastructure to rubble. The bombing caused many areas, including the capital, Sana’a, to completely lose power. When authorities failed to restore electricity, those who could afford it invested in fuel-powered generators, which can cost more than the average Yemeni makes in a month.
Their investments proved futile, as fuel all but disappeared from local gasoline stations. The Saudi-led coalition’s ongoing naval blockade, which requires all incoming ships to pass a full inspection, has significantly stalled the import of oil.
Fuel shortages have caused major problems for Yemen’s war-battered population. Four months after the start of the conflict, little has been done to resolve frequent power outages. Half of the strategic port city of Aden has no power, while blackouts across Yemen can last days.
The lack of fuel has also worsened the country’s already dire water shortage. Pumping water from Yemen’s deep underground reservoirs requires generators. Without fuel to power the pumps, water companies cannot tap into the water reserves that Yemen has left.
In Yemen’s energy-desperate cities, demand for solar power has skyrocketed. Only weeks after the start of the conflict, electrical retailers ran out of solar panels. Prices for the few left in the market shot up.
Few people in Yemen owned solar panels before the war, as the country’s proximity to oil-rich Saudi Arabia rendered renewable energy sources unnecessary. Now, small rectangular solar panels are a common sight across city rooftops.
For many Yemenis, Ramadan demanded an even greater need for electricity. During the holy month, Muslims who fast from dawn to sunset often stay up at night or rise early in the morning. One source reports that prices for solar panels tripled as people rushed to buy the remaining products.
For electrical shop owners in Yemen, business is booming. May’s five day humanitarian truce brought in thousands of solar panels, causing prices to drop. But, for the country’s overwhelmingly poor majority, solar energy is still too expensive. Many cannot afford a solar panel, let alone the batteries or extra accessories needed.
Sami Alzaraei, a market worker, explained that even the most limited solar power source is still out of reach for some. “Simple citizens dream of buying a 10 watt, not a 250 watt panel,” he said.
The United Nations reports that four out of five Yemenis are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. The Aden People’s Relief Committee released in a statement that the “displaced are returning to liberated areas to find a lack of electricity and water services, no health services and the spread of epidemic disease.” The committee called on the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to work fast to restore these critical services.