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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Gas shortage frustrates Baghdad residents

BAGHDAD, 10 June 2003 (IRIN) - After a month and a half of chronic gas shortages, in the last two weeks people have again been able to refill their canisters at gas distribution centres. But with demand exceeding availability, many Baghdad residents, some of them old women and children, are forced to queue for hours at the centres - especially if they cannot afford to purchase black market gas.

"I came here from five in the morning and I still found 150 persons in front of me in the queue. Till now [15:00], I haven't got anything, and I have a lot of things to do in my house," one frustrated woman told IRIN at the Al-Madinah Gas and Oil Centre in the Hurriyah area, one of the capital's many distribution centres. "Last time, I had to get my sons standing from the night before," she said.

But information on the gas supply situation remains scarce. Many people queue, then wait for hours without knowing that they are only entitled to receive one ration a week - only to go home empty-handed.

"Why don't they hang a paper with a list of names or hang a note announcing that people shouldn't exceed their weekly share?" one man complained. Even with American soldiers organising the queues by pointing guns at people who stepped out of line, some people were managing to obtain extra rations to sell on the black market, he asserted.

"We even see some people coming with their vans and taking one or two gas canisters without waiting in the queue, because they know the people who work there," he added.

"Some men send their sons with four or five propane gas canisters, then sell them in the streets to people who can't queue - but for three or four times more than the normal price," Ayad al-Samarra'i, the manager of the Al-Madinah centre, told IRIN.

And while for some selling gas on the black market is a profitable venture, for others it is a test of patience. "We need the gas a lot at home for cooking. I buy it now in the streets, because it's easier than queuing in the gas centres, although it's getting more expensive. Refilling the gas canisters used to cost 250 (US .25 sents) to 300 dinars each in the centres and 500 dinars in the stations, now I pay 2,500 dinars (US $1.80)and it reaches 3,000 in some areas," said one man buying gas from a vendor in the Utayfiyah area.

Adding to the dilemma is the risk that the gas purchased from street vendors is not gas at all. "I refilled my gas canister once and it finished very soon. It was just filled with water, I guess," the man said.

Propane gas canisters used to be distributed cheaply in Iraq before the war, and the entire city of Baghdad depended on refilling them at either the official or private gas centres, except in the case of some rich people in the Karkh area and government employees, whose houses were supplied by a central system. Since the end of the war, oil and gas shortages have created a growing black market and there have even been attacks on fuel convoys.

Themes: (IRIN) Environment

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003



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