Iraq seeks power revamp to head off sanctions, protests

In this file photo taken on September 2, 2018, Iraqi protesters gather trash cans and scrap with barbed wire as they erect a make-shift barricade during clashes with security forces following a demonstration against corruption and lack of basic services outside the local government headquarters in the southern city of Basra. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2018

Iraq seeks power revamp to head off sanctions, protests

  • Iraq’s broken electricity sector is planning a long-awaited overhaul to meet US pressure to halt Iranian power imports

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s broken electricity sector is planning a long-awaited overhaul to both meet US pressure to halt Iranian power imports and head off summertime protests over chronic cuts.
With a freshman at the helm, the electricity ministry is exploring options including revamping stations and lines to cut waste, importing power, and improving bill collection to boost revenues.
Baghdad hopes it will generate enough megawatts to feed demand by summer, when cuts can leave millions powerless for up to 20 hours per day.
But it also has an earlier deadline to meet.
When Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran in November over the latter’s nuclear program, it granted Iraq a 45-day waiver to produce a roadmap to stop using Iranian electricity and gas.
Iraq pipes in up to 28 million cubic meters of Iranian gas daily to feed its stations, and also directly imports up to 1,300 megawatts of Iranian-produced electricity.
Now, Baghdad’s power ministry has outlined a plan to wean off Iranian electricity within 18 months and resolve some decade-old problems, said spokesman Musab Al-Mudarris.
“In the coming two weeks, we will submit to the Americans a five-year plan including yearly assessments,” he told AFP.
If the US approves, it may extend the waiver for “a year or two.”
“But there are no quick fixes,” Mudarris insisted.
Iraq sits on 153 billion barrels of proven crude reserves, but it needs higher quality fuel and gas for power turbines.
Mudarris admitted that while Iraq could do without Iran’s electricity, it needed Iranian gas until it could extract its own or capture flares from oil drilling.

Using its own fuel plus Iranian gas, Iraq can produce a total of around 16,000 megawatts of electricity.
That is far below demand, which hovers around 24,000 MW but can jump to 30,000 in summer, when temperatures reach a sizzling 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Much of the shortfall is technical: when Iraq transmits power, 30 to 50 percent gets lost to poor infrastructure, according to the Iraq Energy Institute (IEI).
Some of that is age, but pipelines and stations were also attacked by the Daesh group before Iraq beat it back last year.
Rehabilitation is a key element of the ministry’s plan.
Mudarris pointed to recent memorandums of understanding with Siemens, worth $10 billion, and General Electric, at $15 billion, to fix infrastructure.
Together, they could add up to 24,000 MW within five years: “That would bring us to 40,000 MW,” Mudarris said.
Electricity Minister Luay Al-Khateeb has also asked Siemens and GE for “fast-track” plans to boost power generation by summer.
Baghdad is finding ways to fund these efforts, including a $600 million finance deal between GE, the Trade Bank of Iraq, and Standard Chartered announced in late November.
Another ministerial initiative involves swapping Iranian power for imports from other neighbors, Mudarris said, including 300 MW each from Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait, plus Saudi solar power.
In a possible omen, new Iraqi President Barham Saleh visited Amman, Kuwait, and Riyadh in his first regional trip since assuming power.
Finally, Baghdad wants to recover money lost by the ministry’s poor collection service.
“We are losing about 60 percent of our revenues to people who don’t pay. If we can cut those losses, we can stop relying on Iran,” said Mudarris.

Last year, Iraq began privatising by hiring collection services to ensure households paid power bills.
Samir Hussein, a 20-year employee of the ministry’s distribution department, said privatised collection has already reduced outages in Baghdad.
“Those who pay cut their usage by half, which allows me to redirect megawatts to other neighborhoods, preventing cuts there,” he told AFP.
But obstacles remain, including overdue bills to Iran for previous imports.
A draft 2019 budget shows Iraq allocating some $800 million for “Iranian gas arrears” and around $350 million for Iranian electricity backpay, according to an IEI analysis.
Another issue is Iraq’s bloated electricity ministry, said energy expert Harry Estepanian.
Neighbouring Kuwait generates around the same amount of electricity as Iraq, but its ministry employs 12,000 compared with Iraq’s roughly 140,000, he said.
The body is also accused of widespread corruption, which technocrat and first-time minister Khateeb pledged to investigate this week.
“Whatever he is planning is doomed to fail if he does not reform,” Estepanian told AFP.
And Iraq’s five-year plan must account for skyrocketing consumption as cities are rebuilt post-Daesh.
“Right now Mosul, Anbar, Salahaddin probably don’t have high demand. Once reconstruction starts, demand will start to go up by around seven to 10 percent,” Estepanian said.
“The gap between supply and demand is widening. It’s not like it was in 2003 or 2013, and it won’t be the same in 2023.”

The Egyptian entrepreneurs improving young lives through the power of art

Updated 20 September 2019

The Egyptian entrepreneurs improving young lives through the power of art

  • The Doodle Factory, founded by Yasmin Khamis and Farah ElMasry, empowers vulnerable children through their personal drawings
  • The Doodle Factory was launched as a for-profit social enterprise in 2017 with personal funds

CAIRO: Two young women are using the power of art to improve the lives of young people in Cairo.

The Doodle Factory, founded by Yasmin Khamis and Farah El-Masry, is an Egyptian brand that collaborates with different stakeholders to help vulnerable children through their personal drawings.

It uses children’s designs to decorate everyday lifestyle products for consumers, such as handbags, pencil cases and place mats. Proceeds from product sales go to funding the medical, educational and sheltering needs of children in communities identified by partner NGOs.

Khamis, 27, and El-Masry, 26, both have backgrounds working for Egyptian NGOs. However, the two Egyptian nationals decided to launch their business idea independently to “bring beauty back to community,” said Khamis.

The Doodle Factory was launched as a for-profit social enterprise in 2017 with personal funds. The venture —  aimed at 18- to 35-year-old female consumers —  has gone on to sell around 20,000 products a year all over Egypt.

The pair work with a network of local NGOs to select welfare projects that target children’s health, education and shelter needs.

Doodle Factory helpS vulnerable children through their drawings. (Supplied)

First, they visit a hospital or school where they hold an art session, providing children with coloring pens and paper.

The Doodle Factory then takes the children’s drawings and passes them through a design process.

“We extract the elements, create the design and put it on the products we sell. A percentage of the sales goes to the children who completed the original drawing. It depends on the collection,” said Khamis.

Each collection goes toward a mission, such as helping to build a school, paying for a child’s heart operation or providing clean water to homes.

“When a child draws and then gets clean water in their house in a rural area, they are not just helping themselves, they are also helping their family and the community. We try to make the process as simple as possible, but the impact is huge for them,” Khamis said.

There will be a lot of small failures, but they will end up making a larger learning curve 

“For me, it’s about creating a brand and an organization that really helps the children it promises to help. Our purpose is to create designs and products using children’s creativity and playfulness to pay for a better life for them.”

Today, the Doodle Factory has five employees and has broken even. Khamis advises aspiring business owners to “get their numbers straight” from the start, “especially if it’s a field that you’re not an expert in.”

She also warns entrepreneurs to expect “lots of daily ups and downs.”

“There will be a lot of small failures, but they will end up making a larger learning curve,” Khamis said.

“If you have a purpose and great idea, it’s important just to get going —  that’s the important thing. But along the way, entrepreneurs need to have the commitment and the responsibility to keep going with the project on its bad and good days.

“Right now, in the day-to-day business, we’re doing much better than we were a long time ago,” she says.

For Khamis, the key is to achieve the right balance. “It’s a business that needs to make a profit because without the profit, we wouldn’t exist,” she said. “But definitely, the impact is as important as making a profit.”


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.