Coronavirus pandemic inspires Israeli group to double its humanitarian efforts

Clean water, electricity is urgent mission for Innovation: Africa.

One thing we've learned in the past month is the importance of washing our hands as a way to combat the spread of the coronavirus. But what about those who don't have access to clean water?

That exact question has been on the mind of Sivan Yaari, a Tel Aviv-based mother of three. She is the founder of Innovation: Africa, a humanitarian group that has spent the past decade helping bring clean water to impoverished villages in Africa. But none of the group's prior successes could prepare them for the current global pandemic.

"I've never felt more concerned than I am today," Yaari told From The Grapevine. "I've been in Africa for 20 years. I've never felt so concerned, stress – I don't even know what's the right word."

Sivan Ya'ari stands with a villager and one of the solar panels about to be installed. Sivan Ya'ari (left) stands with a villager and one of the solar panels about to be installed on a previous project. (Photo: Courtesy)

That's why Innovation: Africa has committed to doubling their efforts in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. A lack of sufficient testing and data has yet to make clear just how impacted the continent will be, but Yaari is not taking any chances. She and her team – who usually travel to Africa every month – are now improvising from their homes in Israel, orchestrating a Herculean effort to save lives.

"We're trying to do everything remotely and we're very lucky that we have strong local teams on the ground," she said, adding that they have already hired local contractors and engineers to expedite the hundreds of projects they were already working on. "Many of them have been trained in Israel."

Innovation: Africa's stock in trade is harnessing Israeli technology to bring much-needed solar power to the villages. This, in turn, powers the solar pump which is submersed beneath the ground and into the aquifer. The clean water is then pumped from the aquifer up into a network of taps installed throughout the villages. Just one solar water pumping system can provide clean water for up to 10,000 people. "We're currently pumping water in over 100 villages," Yaari said. "Is it enough? Certainly not. We're talking about 450 million people who do not have access to clean water."

The solar panels also provide life-saving electricity for the villages. Yaari is hopeful that the electricity can power ventilators for those suffering from severe symptoms of the coronavirus. "Their medical facilities do not have proper equipment, refrigeration or even light to work at night. We operate in areas where COVID-19 could wipe out entire villages," she said. "I feel a greater sense of urgency than ever to bring them access to clean water and electricity. I am proud of our teams across New York, Israel, and Africa for ensuring that our work on the ground is completed in an efficient and faster way. Peoples’ lives are at stake.”

Founded in 2008, the non-profit organization is now operating in 10 African countries – including Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Cameroon. By conservative estimates, they have already helped 1.8 million people in 300 villages. "But it is still not even a drop in the ocean," Yaari told us. "Unfortunately, as you can imagine, there is just so much to do. And my hope, to be honest, is to create the awareness so other people could understand that the solution is quite simple. More people should be trying to bring access to clean water to more human beings around the world."

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Coronavirus pandemic inspires Israeli group to double its humanitarian efforts
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