The electricity shortage in Iraq is a major problem for ordinary citizens. Since the fall of the Saddam regime, the government is unable to keep up with demands for electricity, a particularly painful issue during the crushing heat of summer. Agencies of coalition forces controlled Iraq after the disposition of Saddam. A 2011 report by the United Nations indicated that the daily demand for electricity in Iraq was 6,400 MVV, while the supply of output was 4,470, creating a supply gap. Moreover, it reported that during the summer, demand frequently goes up in the range of 6,800 to 7,500 MVV. As a result, up to 40% of electricity demand is not met during critical times when people are suffering.
Understanding the Electricity Shortage
The electricity shortage in Iraq exists for many reasons. The first comes from the damages inflicted on the country over the course of various wars and invasions. A 2007 Government Accountability Office report indicated that due to the damage of the Gulf War, the production of electricity in Iraq dropped from 5,100 megawatts to 2,300 megawatts. After 2003, Iraq’s energy and electric infrastructure underwent a series of attacks from non-state actors such as Al-Qaida in Iraq (known today as the Islamic State).
Another challenge to accessing electricity in Iraq is corruption and illegal activity. Approximately half of Iraq’s national budget went into paying the salaries of civil servants. The IMF estimated that Iraq would need $88 billion for reconstruction and infrastructure alone; nearly $50 billion is going to the salaries of government employees. Electricity in Iraq is often dependent on oil revenues. The U.S. State Department indicated that up to 30% of Iraq’s national resources go into the black market. There is also widespread mismanagement and mishandling of the infrastructure that provides electricity. The country loses between 30-50% of electricity in Iraq due to inadequate systems of energy. For example, some of Iraq’s electricity is sourced from power plants that date back to the 1980s and are unable to meet the massive energy demands that people expect them to.
Effects on the Ground
How does this affect the working class of Iraq? Not everyone can afford a private generator—a now booming business in Iraq that closes the gap between public demands and government deliverables. Buying those private electricity services is simply not an option for many of Iraq’s poor, which makes life extremely intolerable for these families. Some have reported that they cannot use a fridge, wash clothes or even store food without it going bad overnight. These conditions of corruption, political gridlock and poor living conditions are the cause of massive protests in southern Iraq, one of the country’s poorest regions. The heat only fuels the anger of the protestors.
While the situation might seem hopeless, there are those working on solutions to the problem. It has been suggested that privatization could combat the issue by reducing the deficit and stimulating economic growth. Others suggest that addressing problems directly might alleviate conditions. They suggest tackling the country’s corruption and reliance on unreliable infrastructure. Oil energy production is also a solution that can bankroll the electricity demands. The most important thing is to ensure the efficient use of these resources and to prevent their trade on the black market. Some of the country’s neighbors are also helping provide electricity. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (including Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) are moving forward on a deal to provide electricity to Iraq and distance it from the Iranian supply. Regardless of political implications, the effort is still helping Iraq manage its electricity shortage.
– Mustafa Ali