Can oil turn Lebanon’s lights on?

The Bourj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut is home to an estimated 30,000 displaced people and poor migrants. Getty Images
Updated 08 April 2018
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Can oil turn Lebanon’s lights on?

  • Lebanon’s rank out of 137 in reliability and quality of electricity supply
  • Lebanon and Israel have been contesting the rights to the 860 square kilometer triangular zone.
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil could not contain his excitement when the country began its first petroleum licensing round last fall. “Congratulations to the Lebanese people on Lebanon entering the club of oil countries,” he said on social media.
Are congratulations really in order, though?
Lebanon’s homes and streets are still plagued by regular timed blackouts.
While the country secured bids by a consortium of three companies for two offshore exploration and drilling blocks, its people can barely obtain power to light up their living rooms.
“We time our lives around the electricity outages,” Tamer, 60, an architect, told Arab News.
“I can only go to the office at 12 when the electricity is back on so that I can use the elevator and not have to go up five flights of stairs,” said Tamer, who has back problems.
Electricity in the country works in shifts. In big cities such as Beirut, the power goes out every day for three hours and generators can be heard humming throughout the capital. In poorer and more rural areas, it is off for much longer, sometimes up to 10 hours a day.
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index for 2017-18, oil-producing Lebanon ranks 134th out of 137 countries for the quality and reliability of its electricity supply.
While politicians over the years have promised voters “economic independence” and “a 24/7 electricity supply,” the main question Lebanon’s people are asking is: Will Lebanon’s oil production have a positive or negative effect?
“Potential benefits can turn into disadvantages in the absence of several factors, such as good governance and strong institutions,” Jessica Obeid, former chief energy engineer at the UN Development Program (UNDP) in Beirut, told Arab News.
“Talks on using the — for now non-existent — revenues to pay off Lebanon’s high debt, or revive the economy, should not be taking place,” said Obeid, who is also an academy fellow at the UK think tank Chatham House. There will be “no concrete results” for another eight to 10 years, she said.
“The only certain thing from my perspective is that the country will face a series of serious challenges in developing its petroleum industry.”
So far, since the seismic data implied the potential oil & gas resources off the coast in Lebanon in 2010, its people have witnessed a 29-month presidential vacuum, an infamous river of trash, and now continuous threats from Israel over a disputed oil and gas exploration block.
Lebanon and Israel have been contesting the rights to the 860 square kilometer triangular zone on the maritime border between the two nations. Israel has proposed formalizing maritime law in order to secure its right to the oil; Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, described this as “a declaration of war on Lebanon.”
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University this year that Lebanon’s plans to drill in the disputed offshore oil and gas field were “very, very challenging and provocative.”
With internal issues and political turmoil causing delays and hindering the petroleum industry in Lebanon, other regional petroleum producers have emerged as strong competitors, Obeid said.
For now, Lebanon must look to alternative resources to ameliorate its electricity problems, while solving the problem in the longer term is a task left for future generations.
 


Kuwait arrests 2 Filipinos accused of helping runaway maids

Updated 52 min 40 sec ago
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Kuwait arrests 2 Filipinos accused of helping runaway maids

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has banned workers from heading to Kuwait over abuse cases
  • The two countries have since been negotiating for new rules governing Filipino workers there
KUWAIT CITY: Kuwaiti police arrested two Filipinos for allegedly convincing housemaids to run away from their employers’ homes as the Philippines’ ambassador faced questions for comments about his embassy’s work in aiding abused workers, authorities said Sunday.
The arrests, reported by the state-run KUNA news agency, come as relations are tense between Kuwait and the Philippines, which sends many domestic laborers to the Gulf Arab emirate.
Already, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte has banned workers from heading to Kuwait over abuse cases, culminating in a February incident that saw a Filipino’s body discovered in a freezer at a Kuwait City apartment abandoned for more than a year.
KUNA said Sunday the two Filipinos acknowledged convincing the maids to leave. It wasn’t clear what law the two men were accused of breaking, though KUNA said the two “confessed to the crime in addition to other similar offenses that had been committed in various regions of the country.”
The arrests came after Kuwait summoned the Philippines ambassador over comments he made that were reported in local press about the embassy’s effort to rescue domestic workers who are abused by their employers. Ambassador Renato Villa was quoted as saying his embassy moves in to help the abused if Kuwaiti authorities fail to respond within 24 hours.
Villa’s office said he was unavailable for comment Sunday.
Duterte in January complained that cases of abuse reported by Filipino domestic workers “always” seem to be coming from Kuwait.
There have been prominent cases of abuse in the past, including an incident in December 2014 where a Kuwaiti’s pet lions fatally mauled a Filipino maid.
The Philippines banned workers entirely from Kuwait after the discovery of Joanna Demafelis’ body in a freeze in February. In late March, Lebanese officials said 40-year-old Lebanese national Nader Essam Assaf confessed to killing the woman along with his Syrian wife, who remains at large. Authorities say Assaf faces a possible death sentence.
More than 260,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many of them as housemaids. Kuwait and the Philippines have since been negotiating for new rules governing Filipino workers there.
Philippine officials have demanded that housemaids be allowed to hold their passports and cellphones, which is normal for skilled workers like teachers and office workers. But many Kuwaiti employers seize their phones and passports.