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Sweltering heatwave adds to power cuts misery

Creative Commons
Iraqis cool off at a water park
  • Only those who can afford private generators keep air con running
  • Anger over blackouts helped fuel deadly protests in 2019 and 2020 

Iraq’s problems are piling up and threatening protests: Price increases, a faltering power grid and a summer heatwave made all the more unbearable by electricity outages limiting air conditioning and the use of fridges for many.

While the southern city of Basra is used to scorching summers, this year it has started sooner than expected, bringing misery to residents in a city also plagued by chronic electricity shortages.

Just days into summer, the temperature in Basra has already soared to around 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

Further north in the capital Baghdad, temperatures have already topped 50 Celsius in the shade.

Battered by decades of conflict that has sapped its infrastructure, Iraq is struggling with droughts, repeated sandstorms, desertification and a drop in some river levels.

Power cuts are exacerbated in the summer, and only those who can afford private generators are able to keep their fridges or air conditioning units running.

In Basra, high humidity compounds the oppressive heat.

And with many Iraqis struggling to survive, spending around $105 dollars a month for a private generator is not an option.

The authorities have failed to provide an adequate mains supply even though Iraq is the second-largest oil producer in the OPEC cartel.

But the once thriving country has for years bought gas from neighbouring Iran, which supplies about one-third of its power sector needs.

US sanctions on Iranian oil and gas have complicated Baghdad’s payments for the imports, leaving Iraq in heavy arrears and prompting Tehran to periodically switch off the taps.

The result is longer power cuts for most of Iraq’s 41-million-strong population, many of whom blame politicians and endemic corruption for their plight.

Anger over blackouts helped fuel deadly protests from late 2019 to mid-2020, including many in southern Iraq.

The United Nations ranks Iraq as one of the top five countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Since mid-April, it has been battered by 10 sandstorms, a product of intense drought, soil degradation, high temperatures and low rainfall linked to climate change.

President Barham Saleh has warned that tackling climate change “must become a national priority for Iraq as it is an existential threat to the future of our generations to come”.

But efforts to address such issues appear to have been shelved, as Iraq grapples with political deadlock that has left it without a new government after polls last October.

The World Bank has warned that unless solutions are found, Iraq could lose 20 percent of its water resources by 2050 due to climate change.