Improving energy resilience in Pakistan can avert 175,000 child and adult deaths

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A new UNICEF study finds that investing in resilient energy would also add US$ 2.3 billion to Pakistan’s economy, bring a triple return on investment and boost education.

ISLAMABAD/ NEW YORK, 31 May 2024 – A new UNICEF study shows that powering more health facilities with resilient energy in Pakistan could avert over 175,000 deaths by 2030 and contribute US$ 296 million to Pakistan’s economy by 2044 by the reduced maternal, adult and infant mortality, as well as a lower disease burden as a result of greater energy resilience.

Resilient energy refers to a reliable, flexible, accessible, and quality power supply that can withstand and recover quickly from unanticipated shocks, such as power outages and floods. Investment in resilient energy across health, education and water services can lead to other substantial gains for children in the country and return up to triple the investment, according to the study conducted by the Economist Impact Unit for UNICEF.

For example, providing resilient electricity to schools would reduce dropout rates and improve children’s learning so they can earn more in the future. This would add US$ 2.3 billion to Pakistan’s economy by 2040, as per the research. Given that Pakistan recently declared an education emergency, investments that address energy resilience could help to get 26 million out-of-school children back in the classroom. It would also potentially power approximately 20 per cent of schools that are off the grid in two Pakistani provinces.

In addition, temperatures have hit over 50C in some parts due to relentless heatwaves. The demand for electricity has surged putting a strain on existing electricity sources. With loadshedding and massive shortages, cooling is difficult. This can put children’s health in danger, and lead to dehydration, diarrhoea and more serious complications.

“Children depend on schools, health centres and safe drinking water for their survival, yet these facilities often don’t have the electricity supply to function optimally. As the current heatwave grips the country, electricity needs have skyrocketed leading to shortfalls that can endanger children’s health,” said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF Representative in Pakistan. “This research underscores the importance of implementing resilient energy solutions, which not only safeguard children’s lives and enhance their well-being but also contribute to economic growth. Clearly, this a win-win for everyone in Pakistan: children, families, teachers, private sector and the economy. And the urgency to turn to renewable energy is greater than ever before, especially for our children, who suffer the impacts of climate change daily.”

Worldwide 3.5 billion people live without reliable power, mostly in developing regions, where power outages can interrupt surgeries at hospitals and cause drinking water sources such as tube wells to fail.

In addition, climate change is disrupting the generation and distribution of energy. During the 2022 Pakistan floods, almost half of the water structures, such as water storage tanks, wells and supply main lines were damaged. The floods severely damaged the main river system, responsible for 25 per cent of Pakistan’s energy supply.

In response, UNICEF restored water systems to benefit 350,000 people in 375 locations using smarter design. The floor level of the new wells was raised to above the level of projected floods, with frame structures that provide stability and protection walls that reduce potential damage.

The study finds that if resilient energy is fully utilized, families and children in remote areas can have better water quality and supply, with fewer power outages. This can protect children from diseases and boost agricultural output.

Investment and political action from both the public and private sectors can help to bring about a green and just energy transition. UNICEF is therefore calling for:

  • Greater investment in resilient, sustainable and green energy solutions for healthcare, education and safe water provision in developing countries. These solutions are the best, most efficient and cost-effective ways to address energy shortages given the climate crisis and to achieve net-zero goals. The investments could also go beyond the business value chain.
  • Supportive policies and initiatives that promote the adoption of renewable energy.
  • Partnerships with development finance institutions to offer blended finance solutions.

Providing renewable energy is a critical part of UNICEF’s Sustainability and Climate Agenda. So far, UNICEF has implemented several solar electrification initiatives. For example, three 250 kWp hospital solar systems were installed across Pakistan for uninterrupted supply of renewable energy to power equipment to save newborns and their mothers. Even globally, in 2022, UNICEF provided 12,514 solar-powered vaccine cold chain equipment and constructed 1,855 solar water systems, which helped people and children in communities, health-care facilities and schools to have safe water.

“Pakistan has an abundance of renewable resources and by investing in them we are tapping into a goldmine to help children,” added Fadil. “But we cannot do it alone. We need the private sector to play a bigger role as public sector resources will not be enough. This is everybody’s business.”

Acknowledgement: UNICEF

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