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Africa
Dark days as Tripoli hit by power cuts
Nightly blackouts and a worsening water shortage are ruining what should be a festive time in Tripoli.
Last Modified: 29 Aug 2011 00:20
Libyans queue for water in Tripoli's Masira Kobra district  amid a worsening water crisis in the capital [AFP]

When darkness falls in Tripoli the ink-black North African night is crisscrossed by the neon arcs as celebrators in Martyrs’ Square fire off long bursts from AK-47s and huge anti-aircraft guns.

For many of the city’s residents, these nightly shows are the only lights they have.

Power cuts have struck each night since troops aligned with Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) swept into Tripoli, worsening water and fuel shortages and leading to a dangerous lack of basic services the incoming leadership is anxious to avoid.

Residents said some parts of the capital have been without running water for more than five days. Phone lines and Internet go down with the power. Some locals bemoaned the onset of an inflationary economy that has seen the cost of daily goods marked up several times the pre-war prices.

The absence of Internet, television, and telephone landlines was made access to news sporadic and deepened the concern for those Libyans searching for loved ones.

The festive spirit of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when neighbourhoods spring to life after dark, has also been dampened by the blackouts.

'I want it back'

In Souq al-Jomaa, or Friday Market, a sprawling neighbourhood in eastern Tripoli which put up of tenacious resistance to Gaddafi’s army during the six-month uprising, power is off more than it is on.

"I expected it [the loss of power], but I’m angry because I want it back," said Salem Ramadan, 48, as he stood next to a recently re-opened produce stall in Souq al-Jomaa holding a walkie-talkie to communicate with surrounding neighbourhood checkpoints.

Ramadan said the city has had intermittent electricity outages since the revolution began on February 17, but blackouts had become frequent since fighters entered the capital.

"What makes me less angry is that we’ve lost Gaddafi," he added.

Each night diesel-powered generators shudder to life across the city when the power goes off. For the majority of Tripoli’s suffering citizens, too poor to afford such items, it stays off.

Even families able to afford generators are struggling to pay the huge spike in the cost for diesel. Less-fortunate homes rely on candles or electric lamps that must be charged when the power is on.

Whether through damage or lack of power, pumps supplying Tripoli have shut down and left most of the city without running water. Residents have turned to traditional local wells, but pumps to bring the well water to kitchens and bathrooms shut down without electricity.

All around Tripoli, men and women can be seen carrying water by hand. On Sunday, people queued at a delivery truck in central Tripoli, where a man poured water from barrels into their containers.

Empty rooms, unfinished work

At the Tripoli district headquarters of the General Electric Company of Libya (GECOL), the state-owned electricity monopoly, officials on Sunday were struggling to cope with the power cuts.

The facility’s control rooms, which oversee electricity for a 180km-wide and 30km-long area around the capital, were mostly empty.

These control rooms, along with those in 10 other district centers across Libya, had been undergoing renovation by the German company Siemens when the uprising broke out. The foreign engineers and other staff fled the country when the fighting began, officials said.

Mukhtar Bushaala, who oversees operations and maintenance for GECOL in Tripoli, said power-line damage and fuel shortages were the two main reasons for the capital’s blackouts. Power plants did not have the fuel to operate at full capacity, and the amount of electricity they could deliver was hampered by downed or damaged cables.

The state of power lines connecting the Tripoli area was also an issue. NATO airstrikes had brought down several towers supporting cables in the city, and workers could not perform regular maintenance on others because the spare parts were missing.

Bushaala said work would begin in the coming week, citing higher-ranking GECOL officials who had said parts would arrive by boat.

The phone lines were also in the process of renovation when the revolution erupted, Bushaala and the other managers said. The Swedish company ABB had been working on the communications grid but the processes had not been completed.

'Imposible' conditions

The GECOL managers said they were looking forward to the transfer of political authority to the National Transitional Council. They had not yet received their August salaries, but they assumed the NTC would fulfill its promise to take over the financial system and pay them on time.

They said they believed that bankers and government bureaucrats would remain in their posts during the transition as they had.

Mahmoud Shammam, media minister of the NTC and owner of a Doha-based Libya television channel, promised at a press conference this week that full electricity would be restored.

Yet, the end of Ramadan is approaching and with it the multi-day celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a time for families and friends to gather and feast.

"We have a good society, people help each other, especially during Ramadan," said Fathi Nashnush, holding a bag of potatoes outside the stall in Souq al-Jomaa.

Other residents soon chimed in as they dropped by the shop to stock up on newly expensive produce and household items.

Many said they’re content to soldier through the electricity cuts for months if it means Gaddafi is gone. Others said the lack of basic services is making life hard, and the situation does not reflect well on the country’s new leadership.

But as he ticked off the price of the goods around him, Nashnush had one word for the lives of Tripoli’s less fortunate citizens as the shortages of water and electricity drag on: "impossible".

Source:
Al Jazeera
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