Woman cleaning a solar panel in Abs, Yemen

The conflict in Yemen has forced millions of people to flee their homes, and left communities facing poverty and hunger. Access to energy – low even before the fighting began – has been badly affected.

But the United Nations Development Programme has helped people in three off-grid communities set up solar microgrids, serving local homes or businesses. After initial training from UNDP and its partners, local people pooled cash grants from the organisation to buy the microgrid equipment and establish businesses selling energy to their neighbours. They were supported on the ground by UNDP’s implementing partners – Care International and Social Fund for Development.

“We struggled to use flashlights to help our kids study, now we have lights, we charge our mobiles at home, and we can have fans.”

A microgrid customer in the Abs District

Another customer reported that lower prices gave her access to electricity for the very first time.
Before the arrival of the grids, communities were reliant on diesel generators – polluting, expensive and vulnerable to sudden shifts in the price of fuel. Now solar electricity cuts bills for customers by more than 50%. In villages where families struggle to pay for food and healthcare, savings guard against the need to sell important assets such as livestock.

The microgrids now create a monthly income of up to $70 for grid owners, and have become self-sustaining businesses – looking to expand and serve a growing waiting list of potential customers.

What’s more, the grids are helping women take on new roles in their communities. One grid in the Abbs district is owned and run entirely by women, something extremely unusual in rural areas with strict gender restrictions.

Initially, the women faced scepticism and even mockery from some in the community. But tasks such as negotiating with tribal leaders and recruiting security guards saw them breakthrough local gender barriers. Now the whole community benefits and the women who made it happen are role models. The scheme has created other benefits for women too – as well as improving security by lighting settlements at night, the reduced financial pressure lessens the risk of families agreeing to under-age marriage for girls.

Yemen is still hard-hit by conflict, but none of the microgrids have been attacked or stolen. UNDP explains that this is because they are recognized by the whole community as important assets to be protected.

In the years ahead, the UN plans to expand the community microgrid model across Yemen – using it to power hundreds of schools, clinics and other vital facilities.