Gas and power supplies running out, along with Syrians’ patience

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A general view of the Qamishli oil wells in the Rimelan district in Syria is seen on September 25, 2014. Anadolu - Adem Demir

Published Thursday, November 13, 2014

The battle for the Sha’ar gas field has revealed the depletion of Syria’s gas reserves. This has adversely affected power generation in the country, requiring measures to restore part of the supply in the coming days.

The Ministry of Electricity’s advice and advertisements have become the subject of ridicule among Syrians. Electricity has become a cumbersome issue by virtue of the repeated targeting of power plants in the country.

The issue began when some of the protesters [in 2011] rejected what they dubbed “Assad’s electricity,” claiming that the “light of Islam” was enough, as stated in some of their slogans. Since the uprising in the country became militarized, power plants, oil and gas installations have come under attack, supposedly in an attempt to paralyze and embarrass the regime in front of its popular base. The paralysis has started affecting the state’s vital facilities and people’s interests in all regions.

Although the burden on the authorities in Syria increased, they maintained their hold on most of the vital facilities, trying to keep key installations that directly affect the capital, the coast, and the central region outside of the conflict.

After each attack on plants and facilities – most notably al-Zara, Mahrada, and Sha’ar – the Syrian government diverted millions of Syrian pounds to repair the damage, but discontent from citizens increased as the rationing of electricity increased and fuel supplies dwindled.

According to the governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi, who spoke to Al-Akhbar, as maintenance teams entered the al-Sha’ar field located north of the central Syrian city, the extent of the problem facing the Syrian government became ever clearer. Once the gas field was retaken by the Syrian army a few days ago – after losing control of it twice to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces – it turned out that the gas reserves in the province had been depleted. It will take more than 10 days to restock the reserves.

The last few days brought a lot of disappointment to Syrians. Restaurants have closed down and started looking for alternative sources of energy, a nearly impossible task. In turn, Syrians have started searching for these rare restaurants that remain open during major security incidents.

The crisis that led to the shutdown in the Sha’ar field has led to gas shortages, which in turn negatively affect the level of electricity generated since the operation of power plants in Syria relies heavily on oil and gas.

The attack on Sha’ar took place at an unexpected time for Syrian officials. While the government was preparing to secure diesel supplies for the provinces to deal with the expected large increase in demand for electric power and fuel during the winter, opposition armed forces’ attack on one of the largest gas fields in Syria depleted reserve stockpiles and drastically increased rationing. For every four hours of electricity, there are now two hours of darkness. This is how the Syrian government has decided to resolve the matter at the moment.

Hassan, the owner of a café in Damascus, said that the supply of power is simply not enough to charge the backup batteries, which have to operate for four continuous hours to offset the interruption in the power. He continued, “The problem is not in affording the increasing price of diesel to operate the generators, but that it is not available in sufficient quantities to begin with.”

It is worth mentioning that rationing hours increase the farther one moves away from the cities.

Hospitals were also affected, and have resorted to triage in emergency cases. Ahmed, a doctor at a hospital in Latakia said, “The function of the emergency department is to verify how urgent an operation is and whether it can be postponed, and whether this affects the health of the patients.”

He continued, “The priority is for military hospitals and wounded soldiers. The hospital, like all other private hospitals, has postponed any non-urgent procedures because of the reliance on diesel to operate generators.”

For her part, Rana, a housewife in the Latakia countryside said, “The air is the only thing that is not in shortage in this country.”

“The city, which has offered a large number of martyrs, has become a difficult place to live in. They told us that the reason for the additional rationing in the power supply is the fall of the Sha’ar field in ISIS’ hands. But winter [will be] miserable without electricity or fuel, and the temporary solution for poor families like mine is to cut off dry tree branches [for fuel],” she added.

“The restaurant is closed because of lack of gas.” Nader, a student from Homs, mocks this announcement, which he read on the door of a restaurant in the city center.

“Whenever we think we are close to finding a solution for the tragedies of the war, something happens to make the situation worse,” he sighed.

“The first city to be impacted by the circumstances in the country is Homs. It is the first city to lose its gas stockpiles, and the first city that the government puts pressure on, as though the price of the crisis should always be paid by its people,” Nader added.

The director of the electricity board in Homs, Muslih al-Hassan, told Al-Akhbar that a steady supply of electricity is expected to return soon, promising that the citizens will feel a positive change, especially after the Sha’ar and Jahar fields are functioning again in the next few days. The director explained that positive change will be in the form of a reduction of the rationing schedule that has infuriated many people. He hopes the citizens will cooperate and be patient, and called on them to conserve energy.

The governor of Homs Talal al-Barazi, meanwhile, said that the city now consumes 60 percent of its actual need of fuel, as of this month.

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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