Abdulrahman Al-Eryani 08/02/2022

In the past decade, food security conditions have substantially deteriorated across conflict-affected countries in the Middle East. Wars have damaged key infrastructure that supports the agricultural sector, such as transportation, water, and sanitation. As a result of conflict, food prices have increased, incomes diminished, joblessness soared, and lack of equitable access to water and food intensified [1]. For example, Yemen, the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster, is persistently at risk of large-scale famine, erasing decades of development gains [2, 3].

The World Bank projects that by 2030, two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile, conflict and violence (FCV) settings [4]. As a result, achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in FCV countries, most notably SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 10 (Reduce Inequalities), poses a multifaceted challenge that demands innovative solutions.  

The adoption of solar powered irrigation systems among agricultural communities in Yemen is an example of an innovative and conflict-resilient practice that has safeguarded food production capacities. Other FCV countries, including Iraq and Syria, have witnessed an increased adoption of solar power throughout their agricultural communities driven by the absence of grid electricity and fuel [5,6] . An added bonus: the rise of solar power in those countries has paved a win for SDG 13, which calls for urgent action to combat climate change” [7].

Additionally, case studies in several FCV countries have demonstrated that solar power increased water accessibility in rural areas, consequently improving health and hygiene indicators [8]. Farms are the main source of employment, livelihood, and income in FCV countries, and small farmers constitute a large segment of the population in developing countries [9].

Introducing solar power to FCV’s large but vulnerable population in the agriculture space could very well lead to a cascading effect of innovation and wider applications.   Moving beyond the technology, policy makers and development organizations should step up and improve the policy environment within which solar-powered energy is disseminated. International development organizations have shown support for solar powered irrigation projects, particularly in countries with weak essential services, however solar powered irrigation does not translate into more efficient irrigation use in the absence of guidelines and regulations.

Case studies in several countries have highlighted unintended consequences from the proliferation of cheaper energy such as water wastage as farmers are known to extract the maximum feasible amount of water [10]. To effectively maximize the benefits from the adoption of solar powered solutions in the long run, international development partners should assist local regulators in FCV countries with capacity building and training to facilitate proper policy formulations and oversight. Local farmers could benefit from training on sustainable water management practices as well. Even though fossil and electric powered pumps remain the main driving force behind groundwater depletion in many parts of the world, the potential harm from solar powered irrigation systems in the absence of clear policies and regulations should not be neglected.

References   [1] UNOPS, “Infrastructure for Peacebuilding,” 2020. [2] FAO, “Monitoring Food Security in Countries with conflict situations,” FAO, 2018. [3] Oxfam, “Missiles and Food: Yemen’s man-made food security crisis,” Oxfam, 2017. [4] World Bank, “World Bank Group Strategy for Fragility, Conflict, and violence 2020 – 2025,” World Bank Group, 2020. [5] SIPRI, “Food Systems in Conflict and Peacebuilding Settings,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Stokholm, 2021. [6] Sana’a Center, “Solar-powered irrigation in Yemen: Opportunities, Challenges and Policies,” Sana’a Center, 2021. [5] K. S. Sinan Hatahet, “Syria’s Electricity Sector After a Decade of War: A Comprehensive Assessment,” 2021. [8] F. M. Al-Rufaee and L. M. Abd Ali, “Renewable Energy Strategies to Overcome Power Shortage in Iraq,” 2019. [9] M. Aklan, C. de Fraiture and L. Hayde, “Which Water Sources Do People Revert to in Times of War? Evidence from the Sana’a Basin, Yemen,” vol. 13, no. 4, 2019. [7] M. A. Amir Shahsavari, “Potential of Solar Energy in Developing Countries for Reducing Energy-Related Emissions,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 2018. [9] International Food Policy Research Institute, “Agriculture and economic transformation in the Middle East and North Africa,” IFPRI, 2018. [10] E. R. Alvar Closas, “Solar-based groundwater pumping for irrigation: Sustainability, policies, and limitations,” Energy Policy, 2017.    

Abdulrahman Al-Eryani is a Graduate Student in International Policy and Practice, The George Washington University; Zunair Saleem, International Affairs , M.A. candidate, The George Washington University; and Alexander Zaghloul, International Business, GWSB

This article originally appeared on SDG KNOWLEDGE HUB on 3 February 2022