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COVID-19 stifles access to clean energy in Somalia

Storyline:Business, National News

When the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Somalia attention quickly turned to questions on whether the country is prepared to handle the pandemic considering the protocols that came with it.

One area of particular importance is the ability to keep hospitals connected to power source that is reliable affordable to run life-saving equipments. Health workers are only able to treat infected populations if health facilities, medical equipments and samples collected from persons are fully functioning and without any tempering of results as a result of power blackouts or a not so fully functioning source of electricity. As the virus spreads, more and more resources are needed as the number of infections keep rising, critical patients especially those who require to be placed in ICU rely on equipment that use electricity therefore the need to keep the health facilities connected on 24/7 basis to keep the ventilators on.

Stay at home and social distancing protocols adopted by the government are put in place on assumption that its people have access to reliable stable and affordable power to stay connected and continue working from home remotely. The get out of the house when it is absolutely necessary measure is also put in place on assumption that families have access to cold chain and refrigeration solution to avoid food losses as power is needed for longer food shelf life.

In Somalia however a very small percentage of health facilities have access to reliable electricity, a speedy solution to critical cases and in efforts to flatten the curve is vital in the eye of a pandemic thus the importance of off-grid renewable energy to solve the challenge posed by lack of reliable power in the health care sector. Lack of reliable energy in the health facilities has the potential to multiply the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the mortality rate in tenfold.

How has COVID-19 affected the energy sector industry?

Goobjoog News sought to find out how the energy sector is coping with effects of COVID-19 considering the important role it plays in keeping communities connected and health facilities running.

Clean energy company SECCCO based in Puntland is one of the companies feeling the heat of COVID-19. “The energy sector has experienced severe disruptions to operations, all field trials and projects are currently suspended and installations have been put back,” SECCCO managing director engineer Omar Samatar said. “We have moved most of our operations online but are struggling to reach customers with products, considering the travel restrictions and self-isolation mandates in place. In addition, we are struggling to retain our funding.”

According to Samatar, the COVID-19 pandemic has also adversely impacted donor operations resulting in delated finding as funds are directed to critical areas such as food.

Delays in donor financing has halted the growth pattern of the renewable energy sector, before that main grid energy in Somalia were becoming increasingly decentralized with its power generation being decentralized through the growth of renewable energy technologies, observes Samatar.

“How are the recovery plans going to be financed, how does the world with its shrinking economy find the upfront capital to enable communities and local governments deal with pandemic energy demands” poses Said Mohamoud SECCCO Business Development Manager. “In the past few years we have seen many calls for increased attention and finance to be given to the financing of clean reliable affordable energy transitions. This time more than ever an all inclusive and innovative thinking to give to our communities access to power is paramount as we have seen the world over and building on the importance of ensuring that the response to Covid-19 is based on integrated locally owned strategies where energy, health, water and other forms of service delivery are brought together more effectively,” he added.

Major setback

The pandemic’s impact on businesses and consumers is far and wide and the energy sector has a huge role to play in (re)building sustainable resilient communities and economies as an enabler of development.” The sector needs support with short term financial relief as well as technical assistance and partnerships with government to reach out to communities that are in dire need of staying connected almost throughout and health facilities that we are relying on the power to keep the infection low” added Said Mohamoud.

The gains made in the sector face a major setback if concerted efforts are not made and made soon. Health facilities are relying on the sector to keep them powered. “We play a major role in ensuring economic stability supporting hundreds of small scale farmers, education sector, businesses such as fishing industry we can only continue doing this if donors investors and financiers commit to deliver clean affordable energy right now, this includes debt funding for relief, direct partnerships as well as grants” says Omar Samatar.

It is evident that the sector needs this support in order to build back better and bolster communities during this ongoing pandemic and future calamity. In realizing and in line with meeting SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, SDG 7: Access to reliable, sustainable, affordable modern energy for all.