Afghanistan could go dark as power bills remain unpaid

Neighbouring nations supply about 78 percent of Afghanistan’s power, they have not been paid since the Taliban took over.

The Taliban government has asked neighbouring countries to not cut off power supply [File: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images]

Afghanistan’s state power company has appealed to a United Nations-led mission to give $90 million to settle unpaid bills to Central Asian suppliers before electricity gets cut off for the country given that the three-month deadline for payments has passed.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan from mid-August, electricity bills haven’t been paid to neighboring countries that supply about 78% of its power needs. This poses another problem for a new government that is grappling with a cash crunch in the economy in part due to U.S. and other allies freezing the country’s overseas reserves.

Afghanistan usually pays $20 million to $25 million a month in total to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran and now upaid bills stand at $62 million, Safiullah Ahmadzai, the acting CEO of Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat, said on Wednesday. These countries may cut the power supply “any day they want,” he added.

“We’ve asked the UNAMA in Kabul to assist the people of Afghanistan to pay the country’s power suppliers as part of their humanitarian aid,” Ahmadzai said by phone, referring to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He said some $90 million was requested from the mission as the unpaid bills will jump to about $85 million in a week.

The UN mission hasn’t responded to that request yet, Ahmadzai said.

Currently, there’s no significant power cuts now in Kabul or elsewhere in Afghanistan. Ahmadzai said just 38% of Afghanistan’s 38 million people currently have access to electricity.

The Taliban government is looking to pay the electricity bills and has called on neighboring countries to avoid cutting off the power supply, Bilal Karimi, a spokesman for the group said by phone. “We have a good relationship with them and we don’t expect them to stop providing us power,” he added.

As the Taliban swept into power in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the state power firm had struggled to collect payment from consumers due to the security situation and the bleak economic conditions.

Power outages are common in Afghanistan, even when the U.S.-backed government was in power. The Taliban has been partly responsible for the situation as they attacked transmission towers last year, causing blackouts in Kabul.

Afghanistan needs about 1,600 megawatts of power yearly. Ahmadzai said Afghanistan’s domestic power sources, which include hydropower plants, solar panels and fossil fuels, meet about 22% of the country’s needs.

Source: Bloomberg