Photo courtesy of Leif Hinrichsen, Flickr

Electricity Cuts Leave Iraqis Powerless

Many residents in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, are lucky if they can get five hours of uninterrupted electricity to power their houses in a day. For the millions of Iraqis throughout the country who can’t afford private generators, or don’t have close ties to the government, the reality is that they are left powerless.

The power shortages are but one strand in a web of interconnected problems that are crippling Iraq and making it even more difficult to combat ISIL. While the military effort against ISIL may be stalled, the government can make tangible progress on the electricity front. Doing so would help a government that is in need of victories in the face of mounting pressure. It would also demonstrate to Iraqis that the government intends to take the necessary steps to improve the lives of all of its citizens.

More Power Needed

The consequences of the power cuts reverberate throughout Iraqi society. Besides making living conditions unbearable, especially when the temperatures reach 50 degrees Celsius (over 122 degrees Fahrenheit), small businesses, schools, and even hospitals struggle to provide their services. Shop owners and factories are forced to close because they cannot operate without electricity. This lost productivity costs jobs and increases unemployment and overall dissatisfaction with the government. The blackouts are one of the major issues that have recently propelled Iraqis to the streets to protest the government’s corruption and mismanagement of public services.

As Bassim Jameel Intwan, the vice president of the Association of Iraqi Economists told Middle East Eye, “the electricity power is the dynamo of all production sectors and it is the essential engine for it.†It would seem glaringly obvious that a country could not strengthen its economy without a stable power source, so what then is behind the blackouts?

Iraq’s electricity woes boil down to an issue of supply and demand. In 2014, the government had planned to produce 20,000 megawatts (MW) by this year. This level of production would have been suitable to meet the current demands placed on it. However, according to a spokesman for the Ministry of Electricity, the grid is only able to supply 12,000 MW on average. Electricity demand is currently reaching 20,000 MW which far exceeds the 12,000 that can currently be supplied.

According to government estimates, by 2030, demand is projected to reach 35,000 MW which would put tremendous pressure on the grid even if improvements are made. Energy experts actually believe the real demand will be between 50,000 to 60,000 MW, meaning the government will have to respond to the growing demand or be faced with increased political and social upheaval.

Making The Future Brighter

Part of the blame rests on the deteriorated security situation that the country has experienced in recent years. Not only does the increased insecurity scare off foreign investment, which is vital for the modernization of the grid, but the ISIL insurgency affects the government’s ability to transfer oil which is needed to fuel the grid. Power lines have become targets for insurgents, and oil refineries, such as the one in Baiji, just north of Baghdad, have increasingly come under attack from ISIL forces.

Security concerns are not the only reason why Iraqis are being left in the dark. Years of poor planning, inefficient power usage, government infighting, and overall mismanagement have contributed to the current situation. The government has been averse to making any sizable policy changes such as reviewing energy subsidies for fear of enraging an already aggravated population. Increased private sector involvement is also crucial to modernizing the outdated infrastructure. Once again, the government has been wary to privatize the state-run industries for fear of losing thousands of jobs. A lack of will to make the state-owned-enterprises more efficient has resulted in years of neglect and disrepair.

Electricity demand has been increasing for years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The inability for the grid to supply an appropriate amount of electricity will continue to be a problem especially in predominantly Sunni areas which have seen their electricity cut and are now controlled by ISIL. In some cities, ISIL has proven to be an effective provider of public services.

While the Iraqi Security Forces and militias combat ISIL forces on the battlefield, a winning strategy must also include providing basic services, such as water and electricity, in order for Iraqis to feel empowered once again.

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