Protests over electricity outages continue in Iraq

As protests over electricity outages continue in Iraq, climate change fears mount over soaring heat
3 min read
08 July, 2021
As temperatures hit 50C in the city of Basra, protesters are blaming the lack of electricity on state corruption and inadequate infrastructure.
Iraq is suffering from scorching summer temperatures [Getty]

Iraqis continue to protest widespread power outages across the country amid scorching summer temperatures.

Temperatures in the city of Basra have risen above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), leaving people without the air conditioning and refrigeration they need to keep cool.

Protesters are blaming the lack of electricity on corruption after government pledges were unmet, as well as inadequate infrastructure. This summer's electricity supply weakened when Iran stopped supplying energy to Iraq after Baghdad defaulted on payments to Tehran.

The soaring temperatures coupled with the electricity cuts prompted Iraqi authorities last week to close government offices and shorten working hours to less than five a day, but protesters say this is not enough.

The electricity cuts also bring to light the chasm between Iraq’s different social strata, with the affluent able to pay for a better power supply.

Government employee Sadiq Sadkan pays about $200 per month to access a generator supplying his middle-class neighbourhood during blackouts, which worsen amid surging summer demand.

"I've got a gold standard subscription to a private generator, which works 24 hours a day ... it can turn on any time of the day," Sadkan told Reuters.

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When at work in the national parliament, Sadkan also enjoys round-the-clock electricity in his office, meaning the air conditioning whirrs all day and the water cooler stays chilled.

If the Baghdad heat is still too oppressive, he drives his three children 500 km (about 300 miles) north for a long weekend in Zakho, a mountainous region that is regularly 15C cooler than the capital.

"The middle- and upper-class can still leave," 41-year-old Sadkan said, but he fears that will not be an option for long as temperatures rise nearly everywhere.

"We're seeing the temperatures go up year after year, and we know it's because of climate change," he said.

Iraq is a leading producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), but its national grid has been worn down by years of conflict and poor maintenance.

Critics say an inefficient tariff system fails to incentivise power conservation, and there has been little investment in renewable energy so far.

Climate concerns 

A report released today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) cited research by an international team of climate scientists, which found that climate change was to blame for the record-breaking heatwave in parts of the US and Canada and raised concerns for countries across the world including Iraq.

Iraqi youths buy ice blocks at a factory in Sadr City, east of the capital Baghdad amid power outages and soaring temperatures [Getty]
Iraqi youths buy ice blocks at a factory in Sadr City, east of the capital Baghdad amid power outages and soaring temperatures [Getty]

IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “Right now, we are witnessing heat records topple as temperatures rise, with terrifying consequences for millions of people around the world.

“We are responding on the ground, and thanks to our investment in anticipatory action, we are able to better prepare for these crises.”

The head of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Maarten van Aalst, said: “Heatwaves topped the global charts of deadliest disasters in both 2019 and 2020. Here we have another terrible example – sadly no longer a surprise but part of a very worrying global trend. Many of these deaths can be prevented by adaptation to the hotter heatwaves that we are confronting in the Americas and around the world.”

In the Middle East, Red Crescent Societies, including those in Iran, Iraq and Syria, have been responding to the drought affecting the lives of millions of people. In Saudi Arabia, the Red Crescent has organized a nationwide campaign on mitigating the health hazards caused by temperatures climbing up to 50C.

Rising heat is one of the clearest and most threatening effects of climate change, and temperatures in Iraq are increasing up to seven times faster than the global average, according to a 2017 study in the Atmospheric Research journal.