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In the wake of an explosion that tore through Beirut in 2020, Direct Relief and Anera, a Middle East-based NGO, together distributed over $23 million in medications and supplies. This year, the organizations’ combined efforts provided Covid-19 treatments and midwife kits to those in need in Gaza and Lebanon. The organization has received donations from Direct Relief since 2009, and focuses on underserved people in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Jordan.
Now, Direct Relief is partnering with Anera to fund solar power systems for four healthcare centers in Lebanon. As Direct Relief’s ongoing work installing solar and backup battery systems in locations like the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Louisiana, and California shows, resilient power is an important tool in supporting the healthcare needs of vulnerable people as the effects of climate change intensify.
On the ground, Anera’s analysis of the impact of Direct Relief’s project reveals that impactful results are already being achieved. The project’s four clinics have reported 32% increases in patient capacity, major increases in medicine procurement and operating hours, and large decreases in electricity fees. Solar panels, inverters, and backup batteries ensure cold chain storage for vaccines and insulin runs uninterrupted, and children are receiving immunizations on schedule.
Lina Atat, Anera Lebanon’s Medical Donation Program Manager & Chief Pharmacist overseeing the solar project, described the project as “timely, impressive, and impactful.” Since March, Anera has been working to bring solar installations to over 15 locations. These installations address Lebanese health centers’ reliance on costly and inefficient fuel generators, which many centers use due to the country’s faltering electricity grid. That grid has been significantly burdened in recent years by Lebanon’s economic crisis and deteriorating infrastructure.
Direct Relief’s support will ensure that three healthcare centers in Akkar, northern Lebanon, and one center in Saida in the south can provide uninterrupted access to medical services.
Consistent Power Keeps Doors Open for Patients
Using clean, renewable solar energy to power basic lighting as well as electronic laboratory and medical equipment, the project addresses a dire need for resilient power. These solar arrays will impact close to 100,000 people who have been affected by ongoing electricity shortages, diminishing fuel supplies, and rising energy costs. Akkar is one of Lebanon’s most underserved areas, with the country’s second-highest percentage of Syrian refugees, who face specific healthcare and quality of life challenges exacerbated by the impacts of climate change.
Refugees, and those who live in rural areas, are most heavily affected by the deteriorating standards of living in Lebanon. While in Beirut and other central areas there is greater access to more healthcare facilities with specialized services, accessing these services in rural areas is more complicated. High fuel costs and transportation challenges for refugees, who are often confined to specific areas, severely limit access to healthcare.
Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as other vulnerable populations also experience disproportionate economic burdens affecting access to food, water, electricity, medication, and even education. Government subsidies for medications are not widespread, and refugees also have to pay to enroll their children in schools, where Lebanese citizens are prioritized.
In addition, refugees face security challenges and discrimination. Most municipalities lack the resources to fund personnel training and to provide police officers, and violence against refugees is common. While Atat reported that Anera has received requests to address this problem by helping light streets that refugees frequently utilize in the evenings, there are no available funds to undertake such measures. Where individualized solutions are required, partisanship and indifference often thwart efforts.
Serving Those in Need
That’s why specific interventions like Direct Relief’s are so important. Uninterrupted access to medical care improves all populations’ quality of life. Sustainable electricity generation also helps address the root causes of extreme weather, which disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, resilient power enables health centers to maintain medicines and vaccines requiring temperature-controlled storage, utilize electronic medical records, and run vital equipment.
Further increasing self-sustainability in the region, each medical center that receives a solar system will take ownership of that system after installation. Centers will receive training and advisement from Anera consultants. Managing solar operations and maintenance responsibilities, recipient clinics will become models for similar partnerships in the future.
Anera’s analysis of the impact of Direct Relief’s project estimates that in centers where systems are installed, there will be a significant increase in healthcare availability and operational hours. According to Atat, the implementation and use of solar power are expected to bridge the gap between supply and demand in the national grid.
Lebanon has been rationing power since the Lebanon War in 2006, mainly due to the resulting financial crisis and depletion of Central Bank reserves to support and subsidize electricity. Generation hours have decreased massively, from about 18 hours per day initially down to one to two hours of electricity per day—and sometimes none in many places. Much of the health sector relies on private generators rather than public utilities because there is simply no electricity. Due to high demand and need, renewable power sources such as wind and solar are on the rise across the health, education, residential, and community services sectors.
Yet there have been significant cost increases in materials such as solar panel components, inverters, and batteries. These increases coincide with the devastating devaluation of the Lebanese lira, which reached an all-time low in 2022 after Lebanon’s central bank cut subsidies for fuel and other commodities. This came after Lebanon witnessed an economic crisis at the end of 2019, followed closely by Covid-19 and the Beirut blast in August 2020.
Direct Relief’s aid couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only does it address worsening economic conditions, but it also speaks directly to the causes and effects of extreme weather. “Conversations about climate change are becoming increasingly vocal,” Atat told Direct Relief, and “attention is turning to green power.”
In Lebanon, this often means solar. Lebanon has about 300 sunny days per year, with eight to nine hours of sunshine per day. “So a solar project in Lebanon is a good investment,” Atat said. Facilities gain significant financial relief after the installation of renewable solar power systems.
A reliance on sustainable energy supplies brings important results: increases in the number of patients served, increases in service offerings, and continuity of care. In the past, patients sometimes suffered when there was limited electricity and limited capacity. Generators could only supply centers with some services, and many machines were out of use. Staff had to reschedule patient visits, especially at centers offering disability and behavioral health support. Now, things are changing.
Beyond the walls of individual medical centers, renewables-based interventions are generating beneficial indirect effects as well. On the international stage, UN agencies are undertaking assessments of renewable energy projects. Atat describes how recently, the World Health Organization supported a solar system bid at another center that would provide for cold chain storage. “Attention [to resilient power systems] is now at a national level and on the rise,” Atat said, and that she’s heartened by the progress renewable energy sources are making in the face of climate change.
For Atat, the project is so far a “very good investment to the centers and the health sector as a whole as well as to the safe provision of services.” Enabling facilities to operate independently, without relying on electricity and fuel providers, supports greater resiliency—a key element to keeping these centers going as they continue critical work supporting Syrian and Palestinian refugees and other marginalized populations.
In addition to the $50,000 grant for resilient power at health facilities in Lebanon, Direct Relief has sent more than 170 shipments totaling $181.8M in medical aid to Anera since 2009, including 80 shipments valued at $69.3M specifically to Anera Lebanon.
Heath Pennington (they/them/theirs) is a communications fellow for Direct Relief in partnership with the UCSB Interdisciplinary Humanities Center’s Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program.