Heat waves scorch Iraq as protracted political crisis drags on | New

Baghdad, Iraq – In the scorching heat of the Iraqi summer, thousands gathered in Baghdad’s Green Zone for Friday’s mass prayer.

Some wrapped their faces in water-soaked cloths, others brought bottled water to pour over their heads, many carried umbrellas – all to relieve the scorching heat.

As the sun beat down on the crowd of thousands of people crammed into the largely uncovered square in central Baghdad, some began to faint.

“It was so hot,” Haafez Alobaidi told Al Jazeera after the prayer called by influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

“When the air was calm, I felt like I was roasting in an oven,” Alobaidi said.

“When there was a breeze, I felt like a hair dryer was blowing across my face…full force,” he said.

“You thought living in Iraq would make you used to this kind of weather, but no, no human being should live in this weather.”

Heat waves sweep over Iraq.

Temperatures soared to nearly 50 degrees Celsius in Baghdad almost daily, and in the southern city of Basra temperatures approached 53 degrees – dangerously high in a country that suffers from a chronic lack of infrastructure and services. basic services, and which is also in the throes of a political crisis.

Every summer, Iraq experiences heat waves of varying intensity, and this year was no exception.

But this year, the intense heat has also been exacerbated by a heated political crisis: a deadlock in parliament that has crippled the country, notably leaving Iraq without a government budget to properly allocate spending on essential services such as electricity supply. .

Since parliamentary elections last year, Iraq has endured more than 300 days without a government.

“Everything for Muqtada!

Although winning the most seats in parliament, al-Sadr failed to form a government to his liking. Later, he withdrew his representatives from parliament, resulting in a political stalemate.

Al-Sadr recently flirted with the idea of ​​holding another election. His supporters stormed the parliament building last weekend in Baghdad and remain busy there, further complicating the political crisis.

Alobaidi, who participated in the mass prayer on Friday and also helped storm parliament, said the effort nearly caused him to suffer from heat stroke.

When asked why he kept protesting in such scorching heat, Alobaidi raised his arm and said, “everything for Muqtada!”

Against this backdrop of scorching days and heated political crisis, there is an interim government which, by law, cannot establish a budget, including for the country’s critical electricity sector.

Currently leading this government since May 2020, Mustafa al-Kadhimi is severely limited in what he can do with state finances.

On May 15, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court ruled that the current caretaker government can only implement projects based on the budget set for last year, and only on a prorated monthly basis.

Iraq, an oil-rich country, is exporting record amounts of oil and creating growing revenues for the country due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and global oil turmoil.

However, with the constraints on budget allocations due to the political stalemate, the government cannot tap into these growing stores of wealth accumulated over the past few months as government ministries grapple with budget deficits.

Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity recently announced a state of emergency as the country continues to struggle with summer electricity demand peaks and less than adequate power supply.

The ministry announced on July 30 that it had reached an all-time high supply with power generation reaching 23.25 gigawatts, which is still far from the amount of electricity needed to cope with the summer. rigorous. Electricity demand in the summer of 2022 will hit an all-time high of 34.18 gigawatts, according to the ministry.

“Simply impossible to do anything”

Electricity shortages have multiple causes, said Yaser al-Maleki, an energy economist and Gulf analyst at the Middle East Economic Survey.

“[There are] old power plants that are having mechanical difficulties, or plants that were supposed to run on gas but are now running on liquid oil,” al-Maleki told Al Jazeera.

“But at the same time, the ministry is just not prepared for the summer demands because it doesn’t have a budget.

“What are they going to do for the summer of 2023 when demand is going to increase – are we going to go another few hundred days without government?” He asked.

The lack of adequate power supply is felt in Iraqi society where many have been deprived of the means to cool off as temperatures rise.

In the southern provinces of Iraq, including Basra, on the evening of August 5, while the temperature remained above 40 degrees Celsius, a malfunction hit the Basra power line supplying Nasiriya, causing the complete shutdown of all Basra power plants. The town was plunged into darkness before power was gradually restored in the early hours of August 6.

There is also a persistent electricity shortage in the capital. In Mustansiriyah district in northeast Baghdad, for example, the national grid has only been able to provide households with about six to eight hours of electricity a day, according to a number of residents.

For wealthy families, private generators can fill the electricity gap. The cost of running generators varies depending on the amount of power consumed, but many people who spoke to Al Jazeera said they could spend between $100 and $150 a month for a relatively stable supply of electricity.

Ahmad al-Zangana, a resident of the neighborhood, said he uses a generator to run an air conditioning machine at night.

“But it costs me $150 a month – I only do it in the summer because it’s too expensive,” he says.

For the vast majority, paying such a high price for privately generated electricity is not an option. They have to find ways to withstand the heat.

A boy pours water on his face as people gather for a mass prayer on Friday August 5, 2022 [Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters]

Yaser Zalzaly, with his wife and two children, sat in Abu Nuwas Park on the banks of the Tigris River in central Baghdad after the midday heat began to subside.

Watching her children play in the water, Zalzaly recounted how her home’s electricity supply had dropped to just four hours a day.

It was almost 8 p.m. and the temperature was still 44 degrees Celsius.

“It’s just impossible to do anything in the house,” he said, using a magazine as a fan to generate breeze.

“We come here every night just to let the heat get trapped in our house.”

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