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The electricity crisis is taking Libya in Iraq's footsteps

Workers operate on high voltage towers after they were damaged by fightings, south of Tripoli, on May 23, 2019. - Libya has faced chronic electricity shortages since 2011 [MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images]
Workers operate on high voltage towers after they were damaged by fightings, south of Tripoli, on May 23, 2019 [MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images]

The electricity crisis in Libya is about ten years old, and it got worse five years ago. It has become one of the most prominent manifestations of the crisis in the country and a sign of the bitter reality that Libyans are experiencing.

Officials in the electricity sector attribute the deterioration in the service to the imbalance of supply and demand due to the significant increase in consumption rates over the past ten years. This was offset by a decline in the amount of electricity produced due to the fact that the public distribution network was damaged and sabotaged. Repairs have been difficult because of the lack of funding and the unwillingness of specialist international companies to work in Libya because of the deteriorating security situation.

It is true that recent developments have added to the crisis, the most important of which is the noticeably higher summer temperatures and the change in consumption by over-reliance on air conditioning, even among low-income groups. However, none of this justifies such a phenomenon in what should be a rich country with a relatively small population.

READ: Sonelgaz to supply Libya with electricity

It is worrying that the situation is turning from bad to worse every year; the diagnosis doesn't get any better. The failure to contain the situation continues and the danger of this procrastination is that the crisis will be normalised and the Libyans will be forced to live with it by relying on do-it-yourself solutions, in exchange for endless waste and corruption in the public sector.

The tragedy of Iraq could be repeated in Libya, as the electricity crisis in oil-rich Iraq has existed since 2015. The latest surveys prove that successive governments in Baghdad have spent more than $80 billion on the sector without any satisfactory results. Power cuts last more than 12 hours in many Iraqi cities and a private sector has been established to provide electricity services. This sector has grown, with huge capabilities, and many Iraqis depend on it.

I would like to point out that everyone who became minister of electricity in Iraq vowed to contain the crisis in record time, but they ended up failing and resigning. Nearly twenty individuals have taken this position since the crisis began.

The features of the Iraqi situation have started to be seen in Libya, where failure and the government deficit are at an all-time high and the trade-in electrical generators is widespread. Many people now rely on generators run on diesel fuel rather than the public electricity supply, despite the availability of solar energy technology in Libya. This is an indication of a new factor in the sector, and it is probable that it will develop into a system similar to that in Iraq, which is the sale of services to citizens by private companies. It is more or less a black market for electricity.

READ: Protests flare in Libya's Benghazi over power cuts, living conditions

It is true that public spending in Libya on the electricity sector has not matched the vast sums spent in Iraq, but the budget is large, as is the number of staff; the necessary funding to address the crisis has amounted to billions of dinars. Given the current complications, this is expected to increase. Moreover, several administrations have governed Libya during the electricity crisis, but there has been no glimmer of hope to reassure the public. The crisis was initially concentrated in the west of the country but has now moved to cities in the east, especially Benghazi, which also faces power cuts of up to 10 hours a day.

An expert at the International Energy Agency attributed the electricity crisis and the failure to contain it in Iraq not to a technical or administrative failure, but to political and economic ineptitude. This suggests that the political and economic imbalance in decision-making as well as corruption perpetuate the crisis and hinder efforts to address it. This applies to Libya as well, prompting concerns about matching the situation in Iraq if political and security stability is not achieved and the necessary economic reform is not implemented.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 7 August 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

AfricaArticleIraqLibyaMiddle EastOpinion
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