Wednesday, May 13, 2009
As temperature climbs, electric generators roar in Iraq
By Kadhem al-Attabi May 13, 2009, Baghdad - The incessant roar of hundreds of petrol-powered generators scarcely bothers Baghdad residents any more. In the hot summer months, when temperatures can climb above 50 degrees Celsius, the generators' roar is reassuring because it is thanks to them that residents can stay cool. Hardly any place in Iraq does not rely at least partially on generators. Homes, shopping malls, government facilities, and five- star hotels all depend on them to some extent to keep the lamps lit and the air-conditioners humming. The streets of Baghdad and many other cities across Iraq are festooned with a haphazard tangle of electrical wires linking neighbourhood homes with the large generators that entrepreneurs have set up to supply entire districts with power, in lieu of a fully functional central grid. In Baghdad, the going rate is 10,000 Iraqi dinars (about 8.5 US dollars) for one ampere of electricity, supplied over the course of eight hours. But prices are subject to change if customers, particularly shop owners or restaurant-owners, want more than eight- hours' supply. 'The lack of electricity persists despite the wealth of the country,' 29-year-old Ghadir Mohammed, who owns a pharmacy in Baghdad, told the German Press Agency dpa. The consecutive governments that have administered Iraq since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003 have not dealt with the problem effectively, Mohammed said. Instead of signing major contracts to establish large electrical power plants, especially in cities least affected by the sectarian violence that gripped much of the country in the years after the invasion, the government resorted to 'failed policies, and competed with the private sector in importing generators,' Mohammed said. 'But this did not help solve the roots of the problem,' he added. Corruption has also contributed to the problem. US-born former electricity minister Ayham al-Sammarai fled the country in 2006 after facing charges that 2 billion US dollars marked for the reconstruction of Iraq's power grid disappeared under his watch. Though the problem worsened after the 2003 invasion, there have been shortages in Iraq's electrical power production for 20 years. Big, privately owned, generators first appeared in the public streets of some Iraqi cities in the 1990s, following the destruction of Iraqi power plants in the 1991 Gulf War. After the destruction of more power plants in 2003, Iraq's power grid collapsed almost completely. Despite efforts to rebuild, Iraq today produces 4,000 megawatts of electricity, down from 10,000 megawatts in 1991. Meanwhile, government facilities, banks, hotels and restaurants use their own generators to ensure a stable power supply during business hours. Those Iraqis who can afford them have their own generators at home. 'The power supply has improved this year, but it still hasn't reached the point where I can give up the small generators in my house, or give up my share in the private generator that supplies the neighbourhood,' Abdel-Qadir al-Samarai, a 65-year-old retired general told dpa. 'I should guarantee the flow of electricity so my grandchildren can study for their final exams at night,' he said. The constant blackouts have spurred a new market for the generators, however. Iraqis now import thousands of generators from Japan, Malaysia, Korea and China, which can be found in most markets around the country. To meet the demand, Iraqi traders are also importing devices 'that suit Iraq's poor electrical supply,' said 58-year-old Asaad al-Rawi, who owns a mall in Baghdad. Iraqis now hope that the current Iraqi government can deliver on its promises to solve the power crisis, especially after the unfulfilled promises made by consecutive governments over the years. The Iraqi Ministry of Power has promised that it will supply 12 hours of stable electricity per day, instead of the less than four hours a day Iraqis now tolerate. To achieve this target, the Iraqi government allocated billion of dollars and signed contracts with US, German, British, Italian and Iranian companies to build several large power plants. It has also signed contracts with neighbouring countries to supply Iraq with electricity until it can power itself.