I. Introduction: The energy challenge in crisis contexts
Sustainable energy is a critical element for achieving goals of immediate recovery and longer-term resilience in fragile and crisis contexts. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Arab region, where countries have experienced an expansion of conflict, drought and an unprecedented level of displacement. The ability of communities to cope with and rapidly recover from crisis hinges in many ways on their ability to regain sustainable access to energy.
Energy fuels communities access to water, to social services like health and education, to transport and communication needs, and is critical for regenerating livelihoods and local economies. But too often countries affected by crisis are unable to bring back online the type of energy systems needed for an effective recovery. In such contexts, decentralized energy solutions are now receiving greater attention, as a way of meeting the needs of affected communities and setting the foundations for resilience.
As countries seek new bridges between humanitarian and development interventions, and new resilience-based approaches to crisis recovery, the role of sustainable energy solutions has come into greater focus. Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7) on energy calls on countries to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Among those most in need are the record numbers of individuals globally and in the Arab region affected by conflicts, droughts and disasters. Many countries suffering the impacts of crisis are also energy poor, relying heavily on energy imports for economic and social needs. In these contexts, expanding sustainable energy solutions is seen not as an end in itself, but as an enabler on the road from fragility to resilience. This is particularly important in the protracted situations of conflict and displacement faced in the Arab region.
Globally, the number of people forcibly displaced by conflicts and disasters has reached record levels. The world now has a record 65.3 million forcibly displaced persons, including over 21 million refugees crossing borders, and over 40 million internal displacements within countries. In 2016 alone, there were 31.1 million new internal displacements associated with conflict and disasters globally, of which 24.2 million were internally displaced by disasters and 6.9 million by conflicts. In the past eight years, the world has recorded more than 203 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) around the world, an unprecedented increase.
To make matters worse, the vast majority of refugees and IDPs are hosted in developing countries which already face strained levels of energy security. Constraints often exist to extending energy access to displaced communities, either owing to ongoing conflicts and destruction of power grid infrastructure, or from lack of fiscal space and limited ability to expand already-stretched energy supplies. In such communities, expanding use of decentralized energy solutions is important not only for short-term needs, but from a longer-term development perspective as it helps reduce pressures on host communities and fiscal pressures on the State.
Across the Arab region, a lack of access to energy is hindering the ability of crisisaffected communities to earn a living, access food and water, or access health and education services, and is an important obstacle to recovering from crisis. As further elaborated below, in many countries in the region, expanding access to solar solutions has emerged as one potential enabler of resilience building for affected communities. The ability to scale-up sustainable energy solutions in crisis contexts is in many ways a litmus test for the aspired goal of bridging the humanitarian-development divide and crafting ‘resilient recovery’ solutions – priorities that have come into strong focus in recent years in global and regional fora.
The SDGs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development call for more integrated and resilience-based approaches to development. Energy is a key factor in helping individuals, households, communities, society and the State bounce back effectively from crisis and shocks, ensuring that crises do not lead to a downturn in human development indicators, while also helping communities transition to long-term resilient pathways.