Electricity Supply Is a Charged Issue in Iraq

Jan. 24, 2005 -- -- According to interviews conducted by the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Iraqis judge the status of reconstruction according to the levels of electrical power they receive. Apparently you can impress a lot of people if you can keep their lights on and their refrigerators working.

As far as our findings go, there are nuances to report. It isn't quite as simple as "worse" across the board.

The electricity situation can be summed up in two words: demand and reallocation.

Demand first. The influx of refrigerators, air conditioners, satellite dishes, and televisions has increased demand exponentially.

U.S. and Iraqi officials -- and nongovernmental organization representatives as well -- say they are doing all they can to get power to those who need it, but that demand is simply growing much more rapidly than electricity can be generated. We are mindful that when people report that their availability of electricity is "worse," this may well reflect the fact that their neighborhood is newly stocked with consumer goods.

Next, reallocation. Put simply, different people are getting electricity today.

Prewar Baghdad, the seat of Saddam Hussein's power, typically received ample electricity during the day because Saddam siphoned electricity away from other regions to use in the capital. Today power is more evenly distributed, to the chagrin of Baghdad residents in particular. While rural areas and Kurdish regions are getting more power than ever, central Sunni areas have seen marked declines in power availability due to this reallocation.

Sabotage continues to present problems in this area, as the insurgency takes more frequent aim at the power grid. Almost all the work of repairing and rebuilding the electricity grid has fallen to the U.S. government and its contractors; they are the only ones with the resources to undertake this kind of work nationwide. Reconstruction efforts in power generation have not kept up with increases in demand.

An interesting footnote: Iraqis are used to fully subsidized electricity; the idea of paying for electricity is unheard of. Hence, no real privatization efforts are in the works.

Facts and Figures

Power Figures (Megawatts/day)

Prewar: 4,000

April 2003: 300

November 2004 (most recent): 5,625

(Sources: PCO, USAID)

Nationwide, Iraq receives on average 9-15 hours of electricity per day. In the north, some areas receive electricity 24 hours a day, while some central areas can dip as low as 8 hours a day. (U.S. Embassy)

USAID recently began a project to build 24 new substations, rehabilitate 13 existing substations, and create four mobile stations.

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