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Solar Energy Offers Lifeline in Power-Starved Yemen

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Yemen's civil war has resulted in widespread power outages across the country.

The United Nations estimates that about 90 percent of the country's population lost electricity after the war broke out in 2015.

The severe power shortage has led some Yemenis to buy solar energy equipment to produce their own electricity.

Ebrahim al-Faqih recognized this need four years ago and started selling solar panels. The demand for solar equipment has continued to rise, leading more people to get into the business.

"Even people who used to work selling food moved to work in solar energy because of the high demand," Faqih told the Reuters news agency. He runs a store in the capital Sanaa which sells solar water heaters and panels imported from India and China.

Solar energy systems are providing answers to people struggling to meet their personal power needs. The availability of electricity was already extremely limited in Yemen's rural areas even before the conflict began.

In many areas, electricity is needed to provide one of life's main necessities, water. Pumps are used to bring water to the surface for drinking and farming.

Muhammad Yahya bought solar panels to power his home in the capital. He told Reuters that solar energy has become an important lifeline for many. "Electricity these days isn't just for lighting, electricity is life," he said.

Yahya said solar energy is clearly being used by many as a way to help them get through the conflict. But he hopes people will keep using it as a main source of electricity when the war ends.

Sanaa is controlled by the Houthi movement, which ousted internationally-recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in 2014. A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting a ground and air campaign in support of the government of Hadi, who fled to exile in Saudi Arabia. Iran supports the Houthi rebels.

Some Yemenis use diesel fuel generators to produce electricity. But such equipment pollutes the air and is too costly for many people.

"Alternative energy is better, it changed my life dramatically," said Akram Noman, who lives in Sanaa. He says he now has very little use for traditional electrical power. Noman said the government should offer tax breaks for people to use solar energy and should help farmers buy solar equipment.

Omar Homadi has a farm south of the capital in the Houthi-controlled rural area of Dhamar. He told Reuters he could not cover the cost of running a diesel generator to water his land, so he bought a solar-powered pump. "Our land had dried up but now it has come back to life thanks to the solar energy," he said.

Dhamar's water production had fallen to 30 percent of pre-war levels, said local water official Muhammad Ali al-Habshi. But production has now returned to 70 to 80 percent of levels before the war because of solar projects supported by international donors.

"People used to get water every 10-12 days," Homadi said. "Now it is every three days...Solar energy was like a dream."

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Reuters news agency reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

panel n. piece of equipment that attaches to the surface of something

generator n. a machine that produces electricity

alternative adj. different from what is usual or traditional

dramatically –adv. suddenly and to an extreme extent

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