UNDP Lebanon Country Director, Luca Renda's Speech during the workshop on “The impact of The Syrian Crisis on the Lebanese Power Sector and Priority Recommendations” – February 21, 2017

Feb 23, 2017

Your Excellencies, dear members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome our distinguished guests to the launch of this report. I am confident that you will find it both interesting and useful. I would like to thank the Government of the Netherlands for its generous funding and the Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water for working in partnership with UNDP.

Let me be clear. This report does not focus on lamenting the electricity supply problems in Lebanon. This is a long-standing issue which will require structural reforms.
What this report set out to do and has, we believe, achieved is to provide an accurate assessment of the effect of the presence of over 1 million Syrian refugees has had on the Lebanese power network; and to make realistic recommendations for future improvements. This is to help Lebanon to cater for the Syrian refugees while ensuring that its own population is not affected in a negative way — ultimately leading to enough supply for everyone.

The report also aims to target the assistance from the international community where it is most needed while keeping it in harmony with the energy policies of the Lebanese Government. It prioritizes interventions and actions required to meet the additional electricity demand while ensuring these interventions are technically, financially and environmentally sustainable.

The collected data show a total increase of 10,895 kilowatt-hours in energy consumption, as an indirect impact of the displaced Syrian population. Almost 50% of this is in Beirut and Mount Lebanon. We have also found that there has been an impact on the quality of the supplied power, due to the increased load.

While the majority of Syrian refugees are living in rented accommodation or hosted within Lebanese communities, almost a quarter of a million of them live in informal settlements. They connect cables to the nearest power source and thus use electricity for water heating and for operating more household appliances than is seen in shelters in other regions. This can result in damage to the distribution network.

In areas near hospital supply points, these improvised power cables are a particular problem because they can overload the distribution network. This results in poor power quality and a drop in voltage, forcing the hospitals to rely on generators because much of their equipment cannot function when voltage levels are low.

For schools, the effect is even more marked. Schools are also forced to turn to generators as the hospitals must do. But with a number of schools running an additional four-hour shift to accommodate the Syrian students, total consumption has increased by almost 11,000 kilowatts per shift.

The additional demands made by the displaced Syrian community on the power supply often causes distribution transformers to burn out due to being overloaded as well as resulting in low power quality and a voltage drop. This leaves local municipalities forced to operate water pumps and other service machinery on diesel generators.

In 2012, the Government of Lebanon worked on improving the energy supply by upgrading some of the power utilities and purchasing electricity from temporary barges. However, the surge in demand for power caused by the massive influx of refugees matched the increase in supply achieved by the Government of Lebanon’s efforts. This means that the supply for the average citizen in Lebanon has neither worsened nor improved.

With no end in sight to the crisis in Syria, interventions are needed to ease the problems of electricity supply in the short to medium term. It is not realistic to aim for large-scale solutions which, in any case, would take too long to introduce. Our report recommends small to medium level work which, collectively, would have a significant impact.

We also recommend prioritizing those areas which are most vulnerable, where the grid is not present and people have insufficient electricity to run basic household appliances such as a fridge; those areas with a high concentration of displaced Syrians and places where solar generation is easy to install.

So to our friends in the international community, we ask you to work with us and contribute to deliver these small interventions that will have a direct humanitarian impact on the most vulnerable as well as easing the load on the entire electricity grid. There are still several months before demand peaks in the summer: we can take immediate measures to reduce the cuts.

I would like to end on a positive note: the supply of electricity to the average Lebanese citizen is neither better nor worse now than it was before the Syrian crisis began. This is thanks to actions taken that considered the short and medium term.

We can build on this success and replicate the achievements to make lives for people in all communities. Thanks to this report we now know what needs to be done and where it needs to be done.