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The conflict in Libya is literally leaving people in the dark. Basic services continue to deteriorate, including the electricity supply, with blackouts lasting up to 48 hours.
For most Libyans, these power disruptions are inconvenient and possibly dangerous. For those relying on power for life-saving medical devices, the disruptions can be deadly.
When electricity fails in clinics, maternity wards, operating rooms, medical warehouses and laboratories, lives are at risk. Last year, two kidney dialysis patients died when the electricity cut out and their life-saving machines wouldn’t work.
After this tragedy, a hospital in southern Libya made an urgent call to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) asking for help. Medical staff were desperate to save lives, but the power grid was working against them. They had heard about a UNDP programme installing solar panels in hospitals to provide uninterrupted power to critical rooms.
As a reliable, renewable and clean source of power, solar panels can help to insulate a country from price fluctuations in global energy markets. We don’t hear much about Libyan energy sources outside of oil and gas. But there is strong potential for solar power in Libya, particularly in the hot, southern deserts.
The solar panels reduce the reliance of public buildings on the devastated national grid, ensuring a continuous, easy-to-maintain source of electricity. They meet people’s urgent needs with a long-term, sustainable solution. It also avoids the noise pollution of generators – which is useful in a hospital.
Today, nine hospitals across Libya have solar panels, giving half a million people access to uninterrupted health services.
The panels are part of an internationally backed stabilization programme to support Libya’s peace process while the country transitions to political and economic recovery.
After years of conflict, much of Libya’s basic infrastructure has broken down. One in five hospitals across Libya are closed. Of those still open, more than half don’t function properly.
People are often surprised to hear how hard life is for Libyans, in a country with money in the bank from its deep oil reserves. But the liquidity crisis forces people to queue for hours at the bank, and they can only withdraw 400 Libyan dinars per day (around $300). The money is there but it can’t be accessed. Libya’s institutions are also fragmented; there are few functioning mechanisms to allow the money to be spent on services families so badly need.
Libya needs a huge investment to overhaul its electricity infrastructure and power grids, as well as its schools, hospitals and more. That scale of reconstruction must be tackled in a systematic way, once there is more stability.
But we can’t wait that long. As the situation deteriorates, we must do more now. Even as the political dialogue and peace process continue, we can help to keep basic services functioning – including by installing solar panels in hospitals. We can improve the daily lives of millions of Libyans and give them hope, which in turn reinforces the peace process.
In response, through stabilization, Libyan hospitals, schools, and water and sanitation systems are repaired, and equipment destroyed or looted in the conflict is replaced, including ambulances, garbage trucks, fire engines, school computers and hospital generators.
This is how stabilization works. From Iraq to Sudan, Yemen to Central African Republic and Pakistan, it’s different in each context, but always about delivering fast, basic improvements to people’s lives, to bring more political and social stability.
For people suffering from kidney disease – a major public health problem in Libya – stabilization means a power supply for their hospital dialysis treatment. In war-torn Benghazi alone, in northern Libya, more than 2,500 people need renal treatment, including dialysis or kidney transplants.
Benghazi’s Al-Kwayfia Hospital received solar panels and a generator under the stabilization work. Staff were thrilled they could continue to care for patients, even when the power went off. The panels also drastically cut the hospital’s annual 270,000 Libyan dinar energy bill ($200,000). In addition, two new rooms are being built, to sterilize equipment and for patient observation.
Solar panels came too late for the two kidney patients who died in southern Libya last year. But this harnessing of renewable energy will keep many others alive, particularly if we can expand this work to even more hospitals.
It’s just one reminder of the harsh realities facing many Libyans today. And it shows how relatively simple measures can make a huge difference, even while Libya deals with conflict, insecurity and failing services.
Noura Hamladji is UNDP's Libya Country Director.