August 06, 2012

By Mohammed Zaatari

SIDON, Lebanon: Sidon residents are losing patience with the increasingly long power outages in the southern city this summer, as the cuts have left residents without water or sleep and light on cash.

Power cutoffs can last for up to 20 hours a day, and regularly go on for at least six. The power is off for so long every day that water pumps are no longer able to supply many apartments, and city residents are being forced to pay huge generator bills.

“Many poor areas in Sidon are completely in darkness at night, and people have decided to use candles instead of private power generators,” said Abu Antar, owner of a private electrical generator. “Others are getting only two amperes per month to use the television and the lamp.”

Unable to sleep in the heat and angry over the power cuts, some people have staged protests outside the Electricite du Liban and water management offices to try and get the government’s attention.

Late Saturday night dozens of residents lit candles and made a bonfire outside the EDL office.

“How are we to live? The fridge feels like the closet and we don’t sleep,” protester Um Mustafa told The Daily Star.

“We want to drink cold water and to sleep – not [necessarily] with air conditioning but at least with a fan on,” she added.

Protests and political wrangling have put EDL and its power facilities on the brink of collapse, compounding major electricity shortages that hit the country every summer.

The government has floated a number of plans to ease the nation’s electrical woes but none of them will be ready before summer ends.

Increased outages and extra electricity use during the holy month of Ramadan have spiked peoples’ bills from generator companies. Generator owners have said they are being forced to raise their prices because of the increased strain on their generators.

New posters are being placed along the streets in Sidon by the owners of the private generators announcing the new rates.

In response, many Sidon residents have reduced their monthly consumption from five amperes to as low as two. In some parts of Sidon, people have completely given up on private generators, viewing them as too expensive.

Nazih al-Nakouzi, an Ain al-Hilweh resident, has decided to reduce his generator electricity consumption to 2.5 amperes to be able to pay his monthly bills.

His monthly bills have reached more than $110 since the beginning of August. The cost has Nakouzi considering a further reduction to the lowest two amperes.

In Sidon’s old city, Wafiq Hussein, a generator owner, said that generator owners are beginning to feel like they are the national electricity provider.

“We are providing power, but who is going to ensure that poor people have power?” he asked.

Um Amer, who lives with her son, shares five amperes of electricity with another apartment. She says all she needs is enough to watch TV during the day, with her fans working on batteries which recharge when the power is back. Yet she is still barely getting enough electricity.

Power cuts are also causing a water shortage in Sidon, with the water crisis not being due to a shortage in water. The city gets around six hours of water service per day, with some apartments getting more or less depending on their location relative to the water source.

Thousands of residents in Sidon are unable to have daily water access to their apartments despite protests against the water companies. Last week protesters held a sit-in in front of the water company and called on its director general to provide backup power which would keep pumping water into the city.

The further up the apartment, the less water they usually get, forcing people to buy new water tanks equipped with pumps and place them in different locations on their building.

Many residents are complaining that they don’t even have enough water to wash themselves once a day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 06, 2012, on page 4.

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