Solar, Electric Vehicles, and high-tech in War?

Talal K
Talal K
Sep 28, 2018 · 4 min read
A solar energy system for a critical hospital in Syria’s Idlib (March 2017)

In north Syria, we are expecting that over 40 health facilities will be equipped with solar power systems by the summer of 2019. The plans for making this a reality came after UOSSM (and its supporting partners) have successfully installed and commissioned a pilot project in the spring of 2017, aiming to increase the resilience of the health system as part of the Syria Solar Initiative. However, it was realized that the health system will not be fully resilient if we really do achieve a stable and sustainable source of energy like solar for all health facilities, as this covers only the energy dimension. There are other dynamic variables in the equation that needed attention (among others): mobility & human resources.

As the conflict in Syria intensified several millions have fled the country including many qualified medical professionals and physicians. In 2017, it was estimated that there were only 2 physicians for every 10,000 people in non-government held areas — compared to around 15 in Syria before 2014 (according to the World Bank). For context: Arab World averages around 10 per 10,000 and Germany 40 per 10,000. Since we are living in the most connected and digitized age society has ever witnessed, we realized that Tele-medicine offers a great opportunity for bridging this gap, while enabling physicians in neighboring countries (or much further away in any case) to provide needed assistance in the rural clinic or the hospital in any area under stress. Using advanced telecommunication technology and existing experiences, it’s possible to modularize and streamline a tele-medicine platform and system that works.

Furthermore, even when fuel becomes unnecessary for the critical services in hospitals and clinics after transitioning from diesel generators to 100% renewable energy, ambulance vehicles and vaccine transportation vehicles will continue to depend on fuel (in their current internal combustion engines, of course). We simply realized that transitioning to Electric Vehicles (EVs), or as some call it ‘’electrification of mobility’’ is potentially transformative for the health system. When progressive jurisdictions like the city of Paris adopts a regulation to phase out non-EVs by 2030, we can only be inspired but in different ways.

In Syria and other resource-constrained areas in the Middle East, like the Gaza strip in the occupied Palestinian Territory or Yemen, the electrification of mobility and transforming its energy dependence from fuel to localized energy sources (solar energy in this case) is a strategic necessity to strengthen the critical services, more than an environmentally conscious decision.

Thanks for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge and their supporters, we are extremely proud and grateful that we were selected among 20+ innovative projects out of 615 applicants from around the world for the first round of the new challenge ‘Creating Hope In Conflict’. We are very excited to bring this idea from the realm of imagination and draft papers into the tested reality.

Over the next 2 years, we are planning to deploy the pilot Electric Vehicle (EV) ambulance system (and maybe a vaccination transport vehicle), and work on modularizing tele-medicine in solar-powered facilities in Syria.

HIRS — Health Integrated Resilience System

Our goal is to plan, develop and deploy an integrated system which combines all three components: solar, electric vehicles, and tele-medicine. We will do so while testing it in multiple iterations, researching its application and impact, and figuring out the best-processes for scaling the identified model that works.

Later, we plan to share through an open-source platform all the knowledge resources developed for practitioners to continue the mission of health system strengthening for local communities around the world. Of course, there are more health system components that we believe can integrate into this work, like localizing supplies and medical consumables through 3D printing, which is highlighted by the amazing work being done by the Glia Project team, among other pioneers.

Decentralization of energy systems, and localizing of essential ingredients that keeps our systems functional is crucial in an increasingly troubled world. Beyond the conscious decision of transitioning towards renewable-energy to mitigate the irreversible consequences of climate change that we can avoid, the speedy transition can provide communities with the resilience needed to deal with the present consequences.

Over the next couple of years, we’ll follow up on this space with ideas, plans, and progress in this humble pursuit of transforming the resilience of the health system.