'Catastrophic' power loss as country nears 50C heatwave

A widespread power outage has hit Iraq as temperatures nudge a scorching 50 degrees, affecting millions of people and stirring concerns of widespread unrest.

Iraq's grid was generating in the region of 4000 megawatts according to Ministry of Electricity data on Friday morning, less than the 20,000 MW the grid generates on average.

The cuts have impacted the capital Baghdad and southern provinces in particular.

A man stands by fans spraying air mixed with water vapour deployed by donors to cool down pedestrians along a street in Iraq's capital Baghdad on June 30, 2021 amidst a severe heat wave. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
A man stands by fans along a street in Iraq's capital Baghdad. Source: AFP

Local television channels reported the outage was due to the cutting of a major power line between Baghdad and the southern province of Babylon.

A ministry official said the reason was not immediately known, but it could have been because the line was overloaded, or an act of sabotage. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief the media.

Total shutdowns can occur when Iraq's electricity network is working at maximum capacity.

Defects in the transmission network and distribution capacity also contribute to outages, with intense heat known to impact distribution lines.

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Temperatures have nudged 50C, sparking fears of a humanitarian catastrophe. Source: AFP

Temperatures in Baghdad and other areas have been soaring above 48C in recent days, with the government declaring an official holiday in Baghdad on Thursday due to the heatwave.

The last time a nationwide outage was seen was five years ago.

The outage struck wealthier neighbourhoods of Baghdad, where some residents typically enjoy 24 hours of electricity, something of a luxury across the nation.

Water pumps, which rely on electricity, stopped working in many areas, impeding access to water.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, said the breakdown in Iraq's electricity grid leaves millions without the power they need to cope with extreme temperatures.

"We need to address the resilience of systems in a heating world, but today we must focus on averting a humanitarian catastrophe amplified by insecure energy supply", he tweeted.

A technician controls an electric switch board connecting homes to privately-owned electricity generators in a suburb of Iraq's capital Baghdad on June 30, 2021 as the national electric grid is experiencing outages amidst a severe heat wave. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
A technician controls an electric switch board connecting homes to privately-owned electricity generators in a suburb of Baghdad. Source: AFP

Iraq-based researcher Sajad Jiyad tweeted: "If this isn't resolved quickly it will have catastrophic effects as everything stops working".

Power outages routinely fuel protests in Iraq. Poor service delivery and rampant corruption was a driver of mass anti-government demonstrations across the country in 2019.

Iran this week cut crucial electricity exports to Iraq, which can amount to nearly a third of their neighbour's supply in the peak summer months.

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