No effective solutions to electricity crisis in Damascus and its countryside

Mount Qasioun overlooking Damascus city in the midst of power cuts in several areas (North Press Agency)

Mount Qasioun overlooking Damascus city in the midst of power cuts in several areas (North Press Agency)

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Enab Baladi – Khawla Hifzy 

Every day, Samar al-Omari (a pseudonym for security reasons) consumes a candle that is sold at the price of 150 Syrian pounds (SYP = 0.054 USD) to provide little lighting for her daughter to follow up her homework and for herself to carry out regular household chores when the daylight dims with early sunset in winter.

The forty-something-year-old woman told Enab Baladi that she needs more than 30,000 (SYP = 10 USD) per month to provide little lighting for her modest home in Beit Sahim town in Rif Dimashq province. The town has access to very limited electrical power over long periods of time, making it difficult to use power generators that need to be recharged frequently when in use, such as the batteries commonly used by the residents of the Syrian capital, Damascus, and some rural areas.

Power rationing disparity between Damascus and its countryside 

Power cuts hours vary clearly between Damascus and its countryside. The countryside witnesses blackouts for two days only for the power to come back on the third day for two hours only, while the capital witnesses power outage for hours.

Al-Omari said that in her town of Beit Sahim in Rif Dimashq, the residents have electricity every two days after a complete power outage for two hours only, then the power goes out again until the third day.

Enab Baladi contacted some people who confirmed that the situation is different in Damascus city, as people there do not have power cuts for days. However, this does not mean that Damascus residents have continuous access to electricity, according to them.

Elias Khoury, a resident of Bab Touma neighborhood in Damascus, talked to Enab Baladi about a “new” power rationing program in his area, in which “electricity goes out for three hours and come back for another three hours,” according to him.

Other electricity rationing-related problems

The problems of electricity rationing are not limited to power cuts and the increase in expenses alone, as frequent blackouts cause innumerable breakdowns of electrical appliances in houses, especially in those without power regulators.

Khoury told Enab Baladi that he intends to buy a new refrigerator instead of the one that broke down due to the high-power electric supply.

He wondered, “why is the electricity crisis going on until today despite the government’s promises years ago to secure it?”

The situation is not better in Rif Dimashq province, especially that power outages cause another, more complicated problem, namely water cuts, as electricity is needed to extract water from wells, according to al-Omari.

Government entities throw off responsibility on each other

 Syria’s electricity sector has suffered a significant decline in the last seven years, especially after some power stations have become out of service, leaving some regions with no electricity at all.

Damascus governor, Adel al-Olabi, said that the electricity network was badly damaged in some of the capital’s neighborhoods and surroundings, saying that “despite the very high cost of rehabilitation, we are working on finding solutions to address the power networks problems,” according to what was reported by the local Al-Watan newspaper on 1 December.

For its part, the Syrian regime justified the repeated and long power cuts with the lack of natural gas needed to run power plants.

On 20 November, the newspaper cited a reliable source in the oil sector, who commented on the increase in electrical rationing program by saying that the electricity generating stations of the Ministry of Electricity receive daily ten million cubic meters of gas and 7,000 ton of fuel from the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.

“There is a possibility that the Ministry of Electricity will receive more fuel,” the source added.

The source linked the increase in electricity rationing hours with the poor technical condition of many power-generating and transforming stations and networks that need maintenance and rehabilitation.

Commenting on the subject matter, the Ministry of Electricity, represented by Mahmoud Hadid, an official assigned for the management of the General establishment for the Transport and Distribution of Electricity, talked to the government Tishreen newspaper on 21 November.

Hadid considered that the Petroleum Ministry’s fuel quantities are sufficient to operate all power generating plants working on fuel. He added, the lack of natural gas imported from the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources is disabling the power generating plants operating on this kind of energy.

The governmental official clarified that the quantities of gas delivered to the Ministry of Electricity were 13 million cubic meters last year, but it fell to about nine to ten million cubic meters, while the actual need for gas for operating power generation plants reaches 18 million cubic meters.

More damage to shop owners

Majd Qadamani (pseudonym), an ornamental fish shop owner in the al-Thawra Street area in Damascus, told Enab Baladi about his loss of many fish types due to power outages.

“The selling of ornamental fish requires specific ways to secure oxygen constantly to the fish in water through filters that operate exclusively with electricity in the fish tanks,” the sixty-something man told Enab Baladi with a look of sadness and disappointment on his face.

On the same day he talked to Enab Baladi, Qadamani said that he had lost about 30,000 (SYP = 10 USD), which is equal to a three ornamental fish cost that he described as “valuable.” He added, “the losses continue as the power cuts problem still exists.”

Some shops have turned to power generators; however, this was not a better solution. An owner of a grocery store in Rif Dimashq spoke to Enab Baladi about having to use an electrical generator working on fuel. He said, “the high price of fuel has forced me to stop using it and use a battery-powered flashlight instead”. He added. “I sit in the dark, and when a customer enters the store, I turn on the flashlight so that its battery could last in the evening and for the store’s entire opening period.”

The Syrian Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection has raised the prices of fuel and set in its decision the selling price of premium non-subsidized gasoline fuel to the consumer at the price of 450 (SYP = 0.163USD), while the liter of premium gasoline fuel, was sold at 650 (SYP = 0.236 USD).

On 19 October, the Ministry of Internal Trade raised the price of free industrial and commercial gasoline fuel to 650 (SYP =0.236 USD) and the price of “Octane 95” gasoline fuel to 1,050 (SYP = 0.381 USD).

Fires caused by erratic supply of electricity

On 25 November, a fire broke out in the second dormitory unit of the University City of Basil al-Assad in the Mezzeh area in Damascus. The fire erupted due to a power surge after the power supply was cut and restored as part of the hourly electricity rationing program in the Mezzeh area without causing any casualties, according to the official Syrian News Agency (SANA).

The fire expert in the Criminal Security Department in Damascus, Wael Hassan, said that the fire was caused by thermal runaway after an increased current flow occurred from the use of an electric heater.

The same suffering was experienced in one of the Damascene houses in the Bab al-Salam area, as a woman recounted to Enab Baladi how fire erupted in a house that she was forced to rent and stay in.

The woman said, “the lack of heating means forced me to turn on the electric heater. The power went out, and I left the house without pulling the electrical plug. When I returned home after a couple of hours, I found fire trucks throughout the neighborhood’s entrance.”

She continued saying, “the neighbors informed me that a fire broke out in my house, due to high voltage restoration of power, which set the house with all its possessions on fire, and being old, the house quickly went up in flames.”

Like all Syrians suffering from power outages, the woman is in wait to know what would result from the fire incident, whether the lessor will tell her and her family to repair the damage or sympathize with their situation, or maybe the government would help them in some way since it is responsible for electricity rationing.

 

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