Iraq plagued by power cuts as extreme heatwave adds to daily struggles

National weather service warns of impending heatwave, with temperatures expected to exceed 50°C

The temperature reached 51°C in Basra in July 2021. AP
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Taxi driver Ali Ghalib is frantically dialling his family's number to check on his mother and children amid a power cut.

The blackout had heightened his worries over his sick mother, who requires constant care and access to medical equipment.

"I have been calling home every hour, hoping my family can manage without power. My mother's health is not stable and I fear the worst," Mr Ghalib, 43, told The National.

As temperatures in Iraq approach the 50°C mark, the country again finds itself grappling with a severe electricity crisis.

The scorching heatwave, coupled with persistent power cuts, is pushing Iraqis to their limits, especially vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the ill.

The Electricity Ministry on Tuesday announced neighbouring Iran had slashed gas supplies to Iraq in half, taking 5,000 megawatts from the national grid.

Despite being Opec’s second-biggest producer, Iraq depends on Iran for about a third of its power needs.

When gas supplies, standing currently at about 45 million cubic metres, drop, several areas in central and southern Iraq are in darkness for hours.

Last month, the ministry announced that power generation stood at 24,000MW, an increase of 22 per cent from the same period last year.

But that’s still not enough to supply electricity for 24 hours when demand calls for 34,000MW, it says.

The issue of power cuts is exacerbated by other factors, such as unreliable private generators, paid for by people merely to enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted electricity usage a day.

In Mr Ghalib's Al Jihad neighbourhood in western Baghdad, security forces arrested the owner of a local private generator for charging residents more than the official set price.

"We've found ourselves between two ordeals, we have no electricity from the government or the neighbourhood generator," Mr Ghalib said.

Residents are resorting to more traditional ways of dealing with the heat.

Street vendors for ice cream, cold drinks and watermelon are dotted on Baghdad’s streets and other intersections. Some shopkeepers have also set up showers on the pavement, for those who want to cool down.

Mr Ghalib’s heart-rending story resonates with countless others across the nation, as the lack of a reliable power supply amplifies the misery brought on by the relentless heat.

Residents, unable to escape the stifling conditions, have been left feeling helpless and vulnerable, navigating their daily lives without essential services.

"The electricity situation in Iraq has worsened in recent weeks, making our lives unbearable," says Hana Ahmed, 33, a resident of Baghdad.

"The heat is excruciating and without power we are deprived of basic amenities like air conditioning and refrigeration. Our food gets spoiled quickly and we struggle to get a good night's sleep. It's an exhausting battle."

Despite government assurances, Iraqis remain largely sceptical given the history of chronic power cuts.

Calls for more investment in infrastructure and energy diversification are growing, as citizens demand sustainable solutions.

As temperatures continue to rise, forecasts predict even more challenging days ahead.

The national weather service on Monday said a heatwave would hit Iraq, starting on Thursday and affecting nine provinces in the centre and south.

The mercury is set to hit 51°C in Maysan, Thi Qar and Basra, the statement said.

Iraq has spent at least $60 billion on the electricity sector since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, former prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi said in late 2020, with very little to show for it.

The country that has suffered through decades of wars has taken some steps to develop its power sector, signing multibillion deals with international companies, such as GE from the US and Germany’s Siemens.

It has also awarded deals for renewable energy projects.

Baghdad is also in talks with Gulf states and Jordan to import electricity but these discussions have yet to result in permanent deals.

With temperatures set to surpass the 50°C mark, the urgency to address the crisis has become more pressing than ever. Citizens anxiously await relief, hoping their basic right to a reliable power supply will be met in the near future.

We have overcome numerous challenges before and we will find a way to endure this, too. I just pray for my mother's well-being and for a brighter future for all Iraqis
Ali Ghalib, Iraqi taxi driver

In the meantime, Mr Ghalib is hoping his family will get through these trying times.

"I have faith in the resilience of my loved ones," he said, with a glimmer of optimism. "We have overcome numerous challenges before and we will find a way to endure this too. I just pray for my mother's well-being and for a brighter future for all Iraqis."

But Iraqis are not alone in this crisis, as other countries in the region deal with their own woes.

In the Lebanese capital Beirut, temperatures are peaking at about 30°C and the country is also suffering from regular power cuts, making it difficult for residents to power fans and air conditioning units to stay cool.

While state electricity output has increased slightly in recent weeks, it is still on for about four hours a day.

For some who can afford it, they turn to expensive diesel-guzzling private generators. But even those do not typically provide 24 hours of electricity, with power cuts most likely overnight.

To escape the heat, many Lebanese flock to the beach or into the mountains nearby.

Israel and the Palestinian territories have very different outlooks as they try to prepare for the future affects of climate change.

Israel has put climate technology at the forefront of its innovation drive.

Palestinians have far fewer options. Chaotic governing, limited control over its infrastructure, a reliance on foreign aid and the constant threat of Israeli raids means the Palestinian Authority is far less likely to be able stop the impending catastrophe.

The National's correspondent Jamie Prentis contributed from Beirut and Thomas Helm from Jerusalem.

Updated: July 05, 2023, 5:16 PM