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Lebanon: No credits, no power

By Ayoub Khaddaj

BEIRUT, July 17 (KUNA) -- Lebanese nowadays are experiencing 24-hour per day power outage, heavily depending on privately-owned, smoke-puffing small generators that have mushroomed in the cities and rural regions in the shadow of deep political and administrative crises.
In "good days," citizens may see power for two hours only, amid authorities' failure to open credits to purchase gasoline and fuel oil to run the state power plants.
The severe fuel shortage has also led to stoppage of water treatment plants, with looming concerns that the paralysis might shortly expand, eventually suspend internet services and hospitals' operations.
The state electricity company (Electicte du Liban) has declared that the power production dropped to 638 megawatts from 1,800 MW. However, the national regular need for power stands at 3,000 MW.
The company has asserted that the problem, rooted in lack of funding with hard currency, is of various and larger aspects, such as lack of spare parts and some chemical substances, necessary for operating the generators.
The Lebanese Parliament has recently approved earmarking a USD 200 million loan for the power company, however the latter has said that tankers boarding gasoline for Electricte du Liban have reached the territorial waters but cannot proceed and unload due to authorities' failure to pay. International donors have linked promised hefty financial aid for the country -- suffering from the heavy burden of an estimated USD 90 billion worth of external debts -- to key reforms at various levels and overhauling the power sector.
According to the World Bank, Lebanon has, literally, spent (or actually misspent) on electricity since 23 years up to USD 40 billion.
The power problem has deepened due to lack of opening credits, amid steep fall of the Lebanese pound vis a vis the USD and start of deducting from the state reserves to purchase basic products namely fuel, medicines and necessary food.
Currently, the USD is traded on the local market at approximately 20,000 per dollar -- compared to 1,500 per dollar -- before conditions started to dramatically worsen nearly a year ago.
Mark Ayyoub, an energy researcher at the local think-tank, Issam Fares Institute, told KUNA that the power issue has created unaccountable numbers of problems in various sectors and at diverse levels.
On the latest parliament approval of an allotment for electricity, he said that the move does not constitute a sustainable solution, suggesting that the Beirut government should work out an agreement with an energy-rich country to secure the local needs for fuel sufficient for no less than 12 hours per day, on sustainable basis.
Meanwhile, Khaled Bekdash, the deputy chairman of the Industrialists Association, said that the power issue has hard hit large factories and plants in particular.
The power problem in Lebanon dates back to many years ago. Lebanese have been living on rationed hours of electricity. It has prompted many to count on privately-owned generators that have mushroomed across the nation, proving to be a practical and alternative solution, but adding to the noise-gas pollution. (end) ayb.rk