Solar Energy Facilitates Flexible Working Arrangements during COVID-19 pandemic.
UNICEF Haiti contributes to global movement to increase the use of renewable energy and combat climate change
UNICEF Haiti contributes to global movement to increase the use of renewable energy and combat climate change. From 2014 to 2020, HCO has equipped health institutions with 742 solar fridges to reinforce the cold chain and optimize the quality immunization for Haitian children’s welfare. In 2018, HCO installed an energy-efficient solar panel system at its headquarters in Port-au-Prince to reduce its carbon footprint. A year later, the office took a step further by helping national staffs acquire solar equipment for their residences, which has proven so useful during COVID-19 lockdown.
“Solar energy makes my job a lot easier,” said Gael Duvivier, ICT Associate at UNICEF Haiti. “In the past, when colleagues called me for a technical issue, I had to make sure there was fuel and start the generator before starting to work. Now, the Wi-Fi is already connected. I just turn on the computer.” Duvivier could not continue working if he had not acquired solar energy at home.
“Haitian children bear the brunt of the appalling effects of drought, hurricanes and tropical storms. As Haiti is a tropical country, the use solar energy can reduce the harmful effects of climate change on children,” Bruno Maes, UNICEF Haiti Representative said. “Haiti country office has stepped up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas and global warming”.
“Solar is the key alternative for teleworking”.
On 19 March, the first two COVID-19 cases were reported in Haiti. In line with UNICEF’s new procedure on Flexible Working Arrangements, the country office resorted to teleworking in order to reduce the risks of transmission of the coronavirus. But such procedure would have been impossible to apply if UNICEF personnel had not been equipped with solar energy at home. “With the public grid Electricité d'Haiti (EDH), we have one or two-hours’ electricity a day and it comes at night,” declared Stenio Pierre, Head of UNICEF sub-office in Les Cayes, southern Haiti. “Solar is the key alternative. It is the most useful thing for teleworking”.
Teleworking did not start in Haiti with COVID-19. These past two years, social unrest and violent protests led to several country lockdowns known as peyi-lock, which forced UNICEF staff to work from home. The management advocated for salary advance to be facilitated for staff members to acquire solar panels and all the necessary equipment for their residences.
According to Diona Antoine UNICEF Emergency Specialist, solar is lifesaving for the whole family, especially for children during this lockdown. “We’re working from home while schools are closed. To keep my two little girls busy, I turn on the TV and they follow educational programmes from their school,” she said.
“Strengthening duty-of-care in times of COVID-19”
In 2019, HCO national staff faced recessive socio-economic and political stress that undermined their resilience. National staff also suffered from the economic depression as they are paid in the local currency GHT that lost about 25% of its value in a year. So, staffs could not pay their salary advance regularly if installments were not spread out on months remaining to the end of their contract, sometimes exceeding the 10-month period usually considered for such arrangement. “Thanks to HCO Management’s commitment and support from Deputy Executive Director Hanan and his team, we were able to secure a special salary advance for national staff,” said Daouda Diop UNICEF Haiti Deputy Representative Operations. “Today, 80% of national staff benefit from the salary advance and all staff with administrative duties (85%) have Internet access at home.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, HCO staff have been working from home. “Personal protective equipment (PPE) kits composed of tap-buckets, masks, hand sanitizers, thermometers, etc. have been distributed to all staff while posters with COVID-19 preventive measures were printed and information refresher sessions organized,” said Claude Man Das, local staff association chair. “In addition, the contract of the consultant psychologist recruited to help the staff to curb the stress generated by the 2019 peyi-lock, was renewed in 2020 to face the pressure related to the pandemic”.
To stay and deliver, HCO continued to operate on BCP mode with the Crisis Management Team composed of the Rep, the two Dep Reps, the Security Specialist, Health/Nutrition Chief, Communication Chief and Emergency Chief. In May 2020, a virtual office has been established in Santo Domingo, following the Programme Criticality Assessment exercise and DO's instructions to reduce the footprint. Staff exercised their alternate working modality arrangements in line with the new HR Guidelines, and served as back up for staff in Haiti if necessary. From 21 September onwards, following a consultative, transparent and inclusive process with the Management and the Staff association, some staff will be present in office for low footprint, in rotations and compliance with health protocol.
Solar is available, clean and cost effective. “My last three electricity bills are at zero. We haven't paid anything for the past three months. Solar allows us to make great savings,” Duvivier justified. A clean energy system contributes to reducing air pollution which significantly affects children. The UNICEF project helps boost the solar market, raise families’ income and improve children’s lives in Haiti.