BAQUBA - Lack of electricity in Baquba has shattered businesses, and the lives
of families. Months of power failures has darkened morale everywhere.
In Diyala province, just north of Baghdad, a generation has grown up in dark.
The province, and its capital Baquba 40 km north of Baghdad has lived with intermittent
electricity supply since the times of the sanctions under Saddam Hussein in
the 1990s. Came the US in 2003, and everyone thought it would get better.
"I felt happy when the US invaded Iraq because I thought the electricity
problem will be solved, and we would have it all the time like other countries,"
Abdul-Kareem Hasan, a trader in Baquba told IPS.
But promises of reconstruction by western contractors proved empty, and there
is now less electricity than during the sanctions.
In some cities, homes get electricity just an hour or two a day. Sometimes,
there is no electricity for a week. People struggle to get alternative sources
"Big generators are operated privately for distributing electricity to
people," resident Nihad al-Alwan told IPS. "This process implies that
a person purchases a generator of certain capacity and gives outlets to people.
Each family takes what they need."
In Baghdad, that can mean a high bill for electricity in addition to paying
for scarce and costly food. In many homes the entire income cannot cover the
cost of electricity needs.
The failure has fed anger with the government. "If the government were
serious about fixing electricity, they could do it easily," said Abdullah
Jumeel, a local employee.
Businesses are down. "We need electricity to operate the machines, and
sometimes we go back home without doing anything," blacksmith Jabar Ameen
told IPS. "If there is no electricity, there is no work – and no money."
Only those who can pay for big generators can operate their factories or keep
shops open. But most businesses have shut shop. "As a result, the number
of jobs has become more limited, adding to extreme unemployment," said
51-year-old resident Majeed Kamil.
Unemployment across Iraq has officially been said to range between 60-70 percent
over the last months.
Compounding the problem is the rising cost of fuel.
"We can have simple generators that can be sufficient for the main necessities,
but fuel is too expensive," says resident Radhi Kadhim. "Fifteen liters
of petrol may be priced 12-15 dollars, or sometimes up to 25 dollars. This can
operate the generator for just one or two days. It is futile."
Beyond numbers and hours, the stoppage of electricity seems to have made people
jumpy and bitter. And it brings little reassurance to hear the sound of generators
at night in other people's homes.
The winter has been hard without electricity. "We use wood fire to warm
up the houses," resident Safa al-Hamdani said. "Electric heaters have
become useless. So now we use a metal container, say 50cm by 20cm and burn wood
in it. We have abandoned the world of modern technology."
"I dream of waking up and having a hot shower," said a local resident.
"But I am now exhausted complaining about lack of electricity. I'm sure
nobody can bear living in Iraq. It's a country in the stone ages."
The worst of the suffering comes in summer, when temperatures can reach 55
"When a family has a newborn baby, the members of the family may spend
all night waving pieces of paper over the child to get the baby to sleep,"
Safiya Hadi, a nurse at the general hospital in Baquba told IPS. "This
may continue the whole night."
It is not easy for an adult to sleep either. "Sometimes we sleep just
one or two hours in the night because of no electricity," Adil Mahdi, a
carpenter, told IPS. "When we go to work in the morning, we can hardly
move or think."
It is much harder for infants and children, he says. "Adults can still
bear the summer heat, but babies can not. We just pity them. Both the Saddam
government and the current government have been unjust, leaving people to suffer
like this from lack of electricity."
After a hard winter, everyone is waiting for a harder summer.