UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Electricity supplies almost back to pre-war levels, says minister
BAGHDAD, 2 March 2004 (IRIN) - Since the US-led military coalition toppled Saddam Hussein's regime last April, power outages have been a regular feature of the post-war environment in the capital Baghdad.
But the Ministry of Electricity and the US-led coalition have now brought electricity generation nearly back to its pre-war level after 11 months of slow reconstruction efforts and broken promises.
"We are producing right now around 4,200 megawatts," the minister of electricity, Aihman al-Sammarae, told IRIN in Baghdad. "We have broadly reached pre-war levels." Prior to the war, power generation was roughly 4,500 megawatts.
Al-Sammarae explained that the ministry, the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation and the US Army Corps of Engineers have finally managed to stabilise production. "Now it looks like it is moving in the right direction," al-Sammarae said. "We have fewer and fewer so called forced outages."
But getting to this point has been difficult, which has fuelled public frustration and anger as official electricity generation goals were missed. Back in July, the US civil administrator, Paul Bremer, told a group of journalists, and the Iraqi public, that electricity production would return to near pre-war level of 4,200-4,500 megawatts by the end of the month.
The US coalition then said that it would be the end of August and then the end of September. Finally, coalition predictions were stopped as the reality of the situation became clear.
Poor pre-war maintenance, intense post-war looting, attacks on the infrastructure and slow reconstruction efforts stymied efforts to restore power supplies to their pre-war levels.
Saddam Hussein's regime siphoned off electricity for Baghdad, leaving much of the south and north without 24-hour supplies. Al-Sammarae stressed that electricity distribution in the pre-war period was inequitable.
"Under Saddam all provinces in Iraq suffered," al-Sammarae said. "If there was 4,000 megawatts of generation, Baghdad would receive 3,500 megawatts. We are responsible for providing electricity to all provinces," he maintained.
Al-Sammarae predicted in his Baghdad office that electricity generation would hit 7,500 megawatts by July and 12,000 megawatts by the end of the year, climbing to 18,000 megawatts by the end of 2005.
But he cautioned that these goals rely on international donations and capital investment. He added that the total cost to restore full power generation to Iraq is roughly US $32-35 billion. "It depends on the confirmation of the donations from everybody," al-Sammarae said. "We have received no funds from donor states," he added.
According to a United Nations and World Bank needs assessment last year, the electricity sector will need $12.11 billion over the next four years, well below the estimate provided by the ministry.
Under the US government Project Management Office's supplemental $18.6 billion, the ministry will receive $5.6 million billion in assistance, with $2.8 billion going to generation development, $1.8 billion to transmission and sub-stations, and $1.0 billion to power distribution.
But up to now, the ministry has been working on a shoestring budget, al-Sammarae argued. "The capital budget is not really matching the demands and needs," he said. "I killed myself to get $600 million to bring some power from outside and to fix some transmission lines."
The shortage forced Iraq to look for electricity from neighbouring states and it is currently receiving 70 megawatts from Turkey and 50 megawatts from Syria. Al-Sammarae aims to increase supplies to 250 megawatts from Turkey and 150 megawatts from Syria.
Iraq has also reached memorandums of understanding with Iran, Jordan and Kuwait for electricity supplies.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights
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