In the backyard of the house of Jassim Abdel-Rahman, a 34-year-old resident of Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad, there are always six or so jerry cans which he refills daily with petrol for his small generator.
With less than four hours electricity a day and with a newborn baby at home, Abdel-Rahman refuses to leave his family sweltering in the hot weather so he spends at least half his US$380 monthly salary repairing and refuelling his generator.
“Most of the time we do not have [mains] electricity in my home,” Abdel-Rahman said. “Sometimes, when the generator is broken and it takes hours to fix, my children cry because of the hot weather, and we always throw away a huge amount of food because it goes off.”
“Fuel is not available at petrol stations and I have to buy from the black market at a high price, money that I would rather use to feed my family,” he said.
The power supply situation has been getting worse and in the past three months millions of people have been getting less than three hours of mains power a day, according to the Iraq Aid Association.
|Fuel is not available at petrol stations and I have to buy from the black market at a high price, money that I would rather use to feed my family.|
The Ministry of Electricity has acknowledged its inability to meet the needs of the population, blaming the chronic power cuts on lack of fuel and violence.
Emad Rafid, a senior official in the Ministry of Electricity, said the available supply of electricity was sufficient to meet half the demand. “Violence is preventing our workers from doing repair work in many dangerous areas and those districts are the ones with severe power shortages,” he said, adding that the situation today was worse than at any time since the UN sanctions in the 1990s.
“The problem is worse in the capital, especially in the outskirts, but a solution is far from being found because of the violence,” he said.
The Ministry of Oil said there was a severe fuel shortage because the country’s refineries were operating below capacity and also because of terrorist attacks on refineries. To compound the problem, a number of employees were abandoning their jobs because they feared being attacked.
Long queues in the severe heat can be seen at petrol stations, which operate for a few hours a day only. They sell to drivers only. You are not allowed to buy petrol in jerry cans.
“I don’t have a car to fill up. If I did I could siphon off the petrol into jerry cans at home. Black marketeers are selling petrol at 10 to 15 times more than at the pumps,” Abdel-Rahman said.
The police said they have seen many cases of people getting injured through keeping petrol in their backyards and sometimes even in their homes. Over the past two weeks, at least one child and three men died as a result of this, according to the police.
Power cuts have been one factor aggravating people’s health. Many come to hospital suffering dehydration owing to the intense heat, which in the past would have been mitigated by air-conditioning, Youssera Abdallah, a senior official in the Ministry of Health, said.
“Hospitals are seriously affected by power cuts. We have installed an additional small generator in case the big ones stop working, as most generators don’t work properly,” Dr Ahmed Samaraie, a doctor at Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad, said.
The problem also affects maternity units and clinics, which have reduced their workload as the power cuts have increased.